New Principles Shed Light on the Evolving Power Grid
Look before you leap — seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it? But in reality, we’re all attracted to new trends without always fully understanding their implications. When it comes to the integration of new services and technologies related to the electric grid, the majority represent exactly the kind of innovation that consumers can and should welcome. And no one can deny that the grid is evolving faster than it ever has before. At the same time, we must balance the goal of meeting growing consumer expectations with the need to provide safe, secure, reliable, and resilient electric service at a reasonable cost.
So as the grid continues to rapidly develop, we should frequently revisit the policies around it and assess the impacts on households and businesses across the country. As part of this effort, the Critical Consumer Issues Forum (CCIF) recently released a new set of principles that provide a broad framework around how to incorporate these new technologies onto the electric grid while keeping in mind the need to maintain or improve safety, security, reliability, and resilience.
The principles, which represent a consensus among participating state commissioners, consumer advocates, and electric utility reps, ultimately seek to assist policymakers and other stakeholders in evaluating and re-evaluating issues as new products, services, and technologies are introduced. The principles cover a number of areas related to the evolving distribution system, including:
· Consumer Education & Protection Issues
· Distribution System Planning & Operational Issues
· Transactional Issues
· Jurisdictional Issues
· Safety Issues
While all of these principles are important, the consumer education and protection principles rise to the top for me, as it is critical that consumers are equipped with the right information up front and with the right protections should problems arise. In particular, these principles focus on the need for all electricity stakeholders to engage electric consumers and educate them with objective information on issues regarding how the grid works, how it is changing, and how to prepare for potential impacts.
As our consumer protection principles highlight, there are costs, benefits, and risks associated with distributed energy resources (DER), and consumers need to understand their rights, responsibilities, and remedies when purchasing or leasing these products, services, and technologies. In several states where attorneys general or the media have investigated, consumers are learning to be cautious about unsupported claims and questionable business practices by a few ambitious DER service providers. While states grapple with the CCIF recommendations to clearly delineate responsibilities for entities tasked with consumer protection functions and to provide a clear method for resolving complaints, it is important for consumers to consult reliable sources (state regulators, consumer advocates, attorneys general, Better Business Bureaus, etc.) for information about DER options, providers, and potential pros and cons.
Educating consumers about the strengths and challenges of an evolving power grid keeps stakeholders accountable and blazes a path for furthering its evolution. The bottom line is that well-rounded and balanced conversations among stakeholders, similar to those happening at CCIF, can result in a brighter energy future for us all.
Katrina McMurrian is executive director of the Critical Consumer Issues Forum (CCIF), a unique national forum in which state regulators, consumer advocates, and electric utilities — via a series of facilitated, interactive dialogues — engage in productive debate and develop consensus on key issues of importance to consumers and policymakers. She is a former Florida Public Service Commissioner (2006–2009).