CONCORD — Most people think of their electric meter as a one-way device. It records your electricity usage, and someone from the utility comes to read it so you can pay your bill accordingly.
But legislation that has passed the House and Senate and is now awaiting Gov. Chris Sununu’s signature could turn electric meters into something consumers pay more attention to as they try to lower their electric bills.
SB 284 would require the creation of a statewide utility database that would allow customers to access and use information from their electric meters about how and when they consume energy.
“Data access and data sharing are essential if consumers are to take full advantage of what the 21st century grid has to offer,” said Consumer Advocate D. Maurice “Don” Kreis, whose office represents the interests of residential utility customers in New Hampshire.
“If this bill becomes law, ratepayers in the Granite State will for the first time be able to share their usage data with service providers who can save them money. That’s a big deal.”
Kreis requested the legislation in his role as consumer advocate, and the bill has been championed by Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth, in the House, and Rep. Kat McGhee, D-Hollis, in the Senate.
Thanks to emerging technologies and deregulation, competitive firms vying to be your energy supplier now have the capacity to deliver savings through services like energy efficiency retrofits, solar panels, battery storage, and energy management systems with features like smart thermostats.
“And by ‘real value’ I mean: save customers money and give them more choices,” said Kreis.
“But,” he added, “to deliver as much of that real value as possible, these competitive firms need robust data about how and when their customers and prospective customers are using electricity. The statewide utility data platform would make that data available and usable, subject to individual customers granting permission.”
Ready access to customer usage data will also enable what’s known as “municipal aggregation,” in which participating cities and towns become the default provider of electricity within their borders.
Under SB 284, the state’s three investor-owned utilities (Eversource, Liberty and Unitil) will have to develop and operate the database, but the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) will first have to put rules in place to assure oversight.
The PUC would also have to determine that benefits to consumers exceed the cost of the platform, a critical protection given widespread concerns about high energy costs.
Kries credited OCA Director of Finance James Brennan, who came to the OCA six years ago with a background in information technology, with helping the office make data access a top legislative priority for the past session.
“Jim has taught us, and now he has successfully taught legislators as well, that reforms like these will really make a difference for ratepayers,” Kreis said.
“In a perfect world, the utilities would simply develop a platform like this on their own,” Kreis added. “But in the real world, they need encouragement because efforts to bolster access to non-utility service providers runs counter to the traditional utility business model.
“I hasten to add, though, that in the case of SB 284 our utilities have been interested and open-minded— which is an encouraging sign as we look ahead to the grid of the future.”
During hearings on the bill, utility representatives expressed concerns about privacy and security, and the costs of setting up and maintaining such a program.
A representative for Eversource, the state’s largest distribution utility, said the company already provides several methods for its customers to access their own data and to save costs on their energy usage.