Looking for something new and different to do this summer? At my law school alma mater, the University of Illinois, the Trustworthy Cyber Infrastructure for the Power Grid (TCIPG) center is offering the Cyber Security for Smart Energy Systems Summer School. This graduate level summer program is designed to provide the basics of cyber security in relation to the traditional generation, transmission, and distribution systems of the power grid. Participants will gain an understanding of how the power grid is evolving into a smarter energy system with an emphasis cyber security challenges.

Thanks in part to grants awarded by the Department of Energy, many colleges and universities are offering smart grid training programs in various forms. At Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, your child can MAJOR in the smart grid. The purpose of this major is to educate and train the labor force for the new national smart grid. The Smart Grid Major will cover distributed power generation and smart transmission line system technology that integrates with local area networks.

In Chicago, the Illinois Institute of Technology has a SmartGrid Workforce Training Center designed to educate multiple segments and generations of the community:

Labor – Many of the jobs impacted by Smart Grid energy efficiency initiatives are occupations that have significant Labor participation: electricians, carpenters, sheet metal workers, plumbers and transportation workers. IIT is working with Labor representatives to develop curriculum and certifications that can be integrated into existing Labor training programs.

Veterans – The Center will provide energy training programs specifically tailored to the educational needs of Veterans. IIT will offer flexible distance learning courses to service people who are currently deployed – this means that they can begin planning for civilian transition even before they return. 

Chicago Public Schools – Enhanced curriculum and “Energy Detective” programs will engage K-12 teachers and students. The center will provide teachers with access to
down-to-earth workshops, webinars and immersions on the Smart Grid, plug-in hybrid cars, and renewable energy topics so they can teach their students in practical, easy to understand terms.

Consumers – This initiative will put utilities on the path to an effective implementation of the Smart Grid, which will result in: Fewer, shorter blackouts for homes and businesses, cleaner energy and reduced carbon emission by reducing peak demand for electricity, enhanced U.S. energy efficiency and lower electricity bills.

These are a few of the many innovative approaches to smart grid education colleges and universities are taking to assist utilities with educating their future workforce, as well as their customers. Many of the programs are created in partnership with utilities. This collaborative approach creates a win for everyone – schools, students, customers and utilities. It’s education that is not just informative but useful!

Entergy Corporation announced that two of its subsidiaries, Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee, LLC (“ENVY”) and Entergy Nuclear Operations, Inc. (“ENOI”) have filed a complaint in U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont seeking a judgment to prevent the state of Vermont from forcing the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant to cease operation on March 21, 2012.

The April 18, 2011 request for declaratory and injunctive relief follows the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (“NRC”) March 21, 2011, renewal of Vermont Yankee’s operating license authorizing the plant’s operation through March 21, 2032. The NRC’s action came after a thorough and exhaustive five-year safety and environmental review of the plant.

The lawsuit is primarily based on the following legal principles:

  • “Atomic Energy Act Preemption. Under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court held in 1983 in a case involving Pacific Gas & Electric that a state has no authority over (1) nuclear power plant licensing and operations or (2) the radiological safety of a nuclear power plant. In violation of these legal principles, Vermont has asserted that it can shut down a federally licensed and operating nuclear power plant and that it can regulate the plant based upon Vermont’s safety concerns.
  • Federal Power Act Preemption and the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Vermont is prohibited from conditioning post-March 2012 operation of the Vermont Yankee Station on the plant’s agreement to provide power to Vermont utilities at preferential wholesale rates. The Federal Power Act preempts any state interference with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s exclusive regulation of rates in the wholesale power market. The Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution bars a state from discriminatory regulation of private markets that favors in-state over out-of-state residents.“ Entergy Press Release

This battle between Entergy and the State of Vermont can be traced back to the 2002 Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) that settled the litigation related to Entergy’s purchase of Vermont Yankee from Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation. Paragraph 12 of the MOU will no doubt be analyzed at least a hundred times before this litigation is resolved. Part of it states the parties, “expressly and irrevocably agree[s]: (a) that the Board has jurisdiction under current law to grant or deny approval of operation of the VYNPS beyond March 21, 2012 and (b) to waive any claim each may have that federal law preempts the jurisdiction of the Board to take the actions and impose the conditions agreed upon in this paragraph to renew, amend or extend the ENVY CPG and ENO CPG to allow operation of the VYNPS after March 21, 2012, or to decline to so renew, amend or extend.”

The world has changed since the 2002 agreement and Entergy believes political maneuvers by the state legislature has now voided the provision Entergy agreed to in good faith. For starters, in 2006, a law was passed prohibiting the Public Service Board from issuing a Certificate of Public Good without express approval from the General Assembly. In an open letter to Vermonters, Entergy provides further details. Given the NRC’s approval, which addresses the safety issue, Vermonters stand to lose 650 jobs and $16,484,000 in state and local taxes based on a 2008 benefits statement.

The Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) intends to issue, on behalf of the DOE Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) entitled “Smart Grid Consumer Engagement.” The objective of this FOA is enhance the awareness and knowledge of smart grid attributes and benefits for consumers. Plans can be on a community level or encompass state-wide or regional programming. Consumer advocacy groups are expected to lead the application process and preference will be given coalitions with members from consumer advocacy groups, community groups, utilities, technology/application vendors, state and local governments.

Community-Level Smart Grid Consumer Engagement
These projects are expected to establish and carry out smart grid consumer engagement programs targeting all residential electricity consumers within a single utility service territory. Up to $300,000 will be provided to fund 50% of the costs for projects in this category.

State-Level or Regional-Level Smart Grid Consumer Engagement 
These projects are expected to establish and carry out smart grid consumer engagement programs targeting all residential electricity consumers, within a single state or across two or more states, served by two or more utilities. Up to $750,000 will be awarded to fund 50% of the costs for projects in this category.

The release of this FOA is subject to Congressional appropriations and should occur on or around April 15, 2011.

Update: DOE issued a revision to the Notice of Intent to change the expected issue date of the Funding Opportunity Announcement from April 15, 2011 to May 31, 2011.  The new notice is attached here.

Recently, two studies were released on the effects of radio frequency (RF) exposure of wireless smart meters on humans. The California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) issued a report in January concluding the RF exposure from smart meters fell far below the FCC limit. A study by Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) released last month reported similar conclusions.

According to the EPRI study, the RF exposure from smart meters would be less than from TVs or radios and far less than from cell phones or microwaves. 

The CCST study concludes that even if a meter malfunctioned and transmitted without stopping and the person was sitting next to the meter 24 hours a day – an impossible, worst-case scenario – the exposure level would be 60% of the FCC limit, or 1.2% of the exposure level at which harmful thermal effects were observed.

Hopefully these reports will quell concerns about the safety of wireless smart meters. I suspect they will satisfy most people, but not all. Some believe the FCC limit is inadequate. Their main concern is about the potential non-thermal effects of not just wireless smart meters but any device that uses radio-waves or microwaves, such as TVs, radios, microwaves, cell phones and internet routers. The claim is that even at low levels of RF exposure, there may be harmful effects – other than from heating tissues – if exposed over a long period. Therefore, they claim the FCC limit is inadequate.

The CCST and EPRI reports acknowledge that concerns exist among some in the public regarding non-thermal, harmful effects (such as headaches, irritability, cancer, etc.) of wireless devices. However, there simply is no reliable scientific evidence to show causation and there is no consensus in the scientific community that RF exposure causes non-thermal related harms. The FCC must base its regulations on reliable scientific evidence and cannot revise its RF exposure standard based on speculative fear.

This illustrates a vicious circle where fear trumps logic. If some simply believe their fears to be correct, even in the light of contrary evidence, then science may not convince them otherwise. One can only hope that an increasing use of smart meters by others will begin to allay their concerns. In the meantime, these reports will give the public more confidence as they take a direct role in the building of a smarter electricity infrastructure.

On January 5, 2011, the EMF Safety Network filed an application requesting the Public Utilities Commission of California reconsider its decision to not investigate health-related issues raised by the EMF Safety Network and others opposed to the installation of smart meters. The application states the Commission has an obligation to ensure safe delivery of gas and electric service and has committed legal error by neglecting and deferring its utility regulation duties to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and should do the following:

  • Respond to requests for a smart meter moratorium submitted by thousands of people, including local jurisdictions
  • Order an immediate moratorium on the deployment of smart meters;
  • Hold public evidentiary hearings; and
  • Offer shielded wire alternatives or maintain existing electromechanical meter.

No decision on the application has been made yet. For more information on this case see my blog post of December 21, 2010.

I have no doubt that a smarter grid will eventually benefit all classes of customers. Industrial and commercial customers when properly informed will leverage smart meter data to improve their bottom line financials. However, I am not convinced that most residential customers will want to be as engaged with the real time pricing information provided by their smart meters the way they play with apps on their smart phones. Seeing the price of electricity spike on a hot summer day does not provide the same thrill as receiving a video of your grandson two states away kick the winning goal in a soccer game. Ever leave home without your cell phone? Just ten years ago, this question would not have made much sense. Now just reading it can generate mild discomfort. Fast forward to the evolution of the smart grid. Will not knowing the latest kWh prices generate that same feeling of discomfort? I don’t think so. However, not being able to charge your smart phone can and will continue to generate distress. The bottom line for all classes of customers is that they want to know electricity is there when they need it, which is pretty much 24/7. And therein lies the greatest benefit of the smart grid…greater reliability. The updated digitized smart grid will improve outage response times and in some cases prevent outages. The smart meters will provide additional data to help utilities provide better service. A side effect of this upgraded technology is that the smart meter will provide additional data. The very thing that is helpful can also be viewed a con as it raises privacy concerns. 

Utilities should consider these sensitive privacy issues when implementing their smart meter programs. The first step will be a well thought out privacy policy. The second step is making sure your call center has sufficient talking points to articulate your privacy policy. The basics of the policy should provide information on how customer specific usage data (“CEUD”) will be treated, to what extent it will be shared with third parties and how customers can prevent it. PG&E’s Customer Information Privacy Policy is a good model. 

Last year DOE had a Request for Information on this very issue and on October 5, 2010, issued a detailed report that contained the following recommendations:

  • Consumer education and flexibility in both technology and pace of deployment will be critical to the long-term success of Smart Grid technologies.
  • Many Smart Grid technologies can generate highly detailed, or “granular,” energy-consumption data that should be accorded privacy protections because it is both potentially useful and sensitive.
  • Utilities should continue to have access to CEUD and to be able to use that data for utility-related business purposes like managing their networks, coordinating with transmission and distribution-system operators, billing for services and compiling it into anonymized and aggregated energy-usage data for purposes like reporting jurisdictional load profiles.
  • Consumers should be able to access CEUD and decide whether third-parties are entitled to access CEUD for purposes other than providing electrical power.
  • All classes of electric utility customers should be entitled to protect the privacy of their own individual energy-usage data.
  • Deployment strategies must be flexible for utilities serving rural, low-income, minority or elderly customers and consider the special circumstances of those customers, but should not presume that Smart Grid technologies are inappropriate or unhelpful to such customers.
  • States must carefully consider the conditions under which consumers can authorize third-party access to CEUD.
  • To promote further cooperation and dissemination of information about practices relating to the regulation of the privacy and data-protection aspects of smart-grid technologies, a web portal should be created to act as a “clearinghouse” for such data.

Despite having approved Central Maine Power’s (CMP’s) Automated Metering Infrastructure (AMI) plan in February 2010 as a program designed to “improve customer service, enhance storm restoration efforts, reduce utility operational costs, save ratepayer and utility costs, and ultimately provide customers with necessary tools to use electricity more efficiently,” on January 4, 2011, the Maine PUC voted unanimously to open an investigation at the request of complainants citing health concerns. (Docket Numbers 2010-345, and 2010-389). The Commission states the investigation will examine:

  • the possibility of local opt-outs to the program already being implemented and installed by CMP;
  • the possible effect of such an opt-out on the original federal Department of Energy (DOE) grant which helped fund approximately half the cost of the program;
  • the availability of hard-wire alternatives from CMP;
  • cost implications of any alternatives; and
  • what impact the alternatives would have on the smart grid program’s goals. 

Attorney Beth George of Scarborough, MI, is just one of several CMP customers requesting an investigation. Her letter to the Commission expressed concern about a few of her neighbors having “some type of heart failure” within weeks of each other. Additionally, the Scarborough Town Council passed a resolution requesting CMP to delay the installation of the “so called smart meters.” The Council is asking the Commission to give customers the ability to opt out of having the wireless smart meters installed. Several state representatives weighed in requesting an investigation as well.

I wonder if any of the complainants have cell phones, use Wi-Fi for their home internet connections or use cordless phones? Will CMP lower its carbon footprint by sending a meter reader to read three meters on Cleveland Circle and two meters on Hampton Circle? Obviously efficiencies will be lost. And what about the software and other technology issues? Will CMP have to maintain dual billing systems? There is a strong possibility these options will take an expensive plan and make it cost prohibitive.

Pacific Gas & Electric (“PG&E”) and the EMF Safety Network (“Network”) battled over the summer regarding the safety of smart meters.  In early spring, Network submitted an Application to the California Public Utility Commission (“CPUC”) requesting the Commission modify its previous orders approving PG&E’s smart meter program alleging health related concerns. EMF Safety Network is self-described in the application as “a coalition of business and property owners, concerned citizens and PG&E ratepayers in northern California who address health, environmental, and safety impacts associated with electromagnetic fields (EMF) and radiofrequency radiation (RF) technologies.” Network’s mission is public education, policy development, and community advocacy to limit further widespread, chronic, involuntary EMF and RF exposures. Network requested the following modifications:

  • re-open Commission review of PG&E’s Smart Meter program
  • require PG&E to submit an independently prepared RF Emissions study
  • schedule evidentiary hearings on RF health, environmental, and safety impacts
  • review actual Smart Meter program performance
  • require PG&E to amend its tariff to afford customers the right to opt out of the smart meter program; and
  • impose an immediate moratorium on PG&E installation of new Smart Meters pending completion of the requested study, evidentiary hearings and the proposed Commission review.

PG&E filed a Protest of Network’s Application as well as a Motion to Dismiss. In the motion, PG&E argued that the Commission should dismiss Network’s Application on the grounds that the field of RF emissions is pre-empted by federal law, that the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) is the body responsible for RF regulation, that all meters with smart meter technology have been licensed or certified by the FCC and that the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution precludes the CPUC from regulating RF emissions.

A flurry of protests, replies and comments ensued during the summer of Smart Grid Smackdown, including comments to the Proposed Decision (“PD”) granting PG&E’s motion to dismiss. The Division of Ratepayer Advocates (“DRA”) argued in its comments that the CPUC is responsible to ensure that smart meters do not endanger public health and “Unless the public’s concerns can be put to rest, there is a very great risk that PG&E’s Smart Meter deployment will turn out to be a $2.2 billion mistake that ratepayers can ill afford.”

On December 2, 2010, the CPUC, paved the way for PG&E’s continued deployment of smart meters by adopting the PD and granting PG&E’s motion to dismiss. Given the emotional protest involved, I have a feeling the case and the issues raised will not end with the CPUC’s decision.  

Lisa Romani contributed to this post.