Smart Grid & Privacy

Author: Yana A. St. Clair, Esq.

Smart Grid & Privacy

In an attempt to protect the privacy of Smart Meter data, the California Public Utility Commission has established new rules. A decision adopting rules to protect the privacy and security of the electricity usage data of the customers of Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), Southern California Edison Company(SCE), and San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) was introduced. The decision specifies the implementation of the protections ordered by Senate Bill (SB) 1476.

Who is covered by the privacy rules? There were arguments that the privacy rules should be applicable to all entities entitled to covered information and such that the "Commission itself appears to remain uncertain about the extent of its jurisdiction.” (docs.cpuc,ca,gov)

Some argued that the proposed decision conferred a special status on utilities engaged in the primary purposes of energy efficiency. It was also clarified that those engaged in a primary purpose approved by the Commission, should have similar rights and responsibilities relating to the data to be able to accomplish the primary purpose. Therefore, this relates to any business entity no matter if it is a utility or a non-utility.

Another vital issue considered was what kind of guidelines should determine the parties covered, what information is to be considered covered, and the question of which uses of information are primary. To address this, specific definitions were provided to be used consistently.

Covered Information for:

  • Primary Purpose is associated organically with the provision of utility, demand response, energy management and energy efficiency services
  • Secondary Purpose are all other uses of the information

Covered entity is:

  • Any electric service provider/corporation, gas corporation or community choice aggregator, or
  • Any third party that collects, stores, uses, or discloses covered information

In addition to the privacy rules covering energy utilities, policies to govern access to customer usage data by customers and by authorized third parties were also adopted. (docs.cpuc,ca,gov/140369.) Thus, according to Decision 11-07-056, all electric utilities, their contractors, and third party who are entitled to electricity usage data from California utilities will have to abide by the new rules.

Disclosure for primary purpose: The decision further specifies that an electrical corporation may disclose covered information to a third party without customer consent only “when explicitly ordered to do so by the Commission, or for a primary purpose being carried out.” (docs.cpuc,ca,gov/140369.)

The covered entity allowed to disclose such data should have a contract with the third party, requiring the latter to “agree to access, collect, store, use, and disclose the covered information under policies, practices and notification requirements no less protective than those under which the covered entity itself operates as required under this rule, unless otherwise directed by the Commission.” (docs.cpuc,ca,gov/140369.) If the requirements for using said data for primary purpose are abided by, the same should be valid for subsequent disclosures as well.

The Decision further conditioned that if a third party fails to handle the acquired data according to the policies specified in the contract, it shall be considered a material breach. Also, the Commission should be notified in situations when covered entity disclosing covered information receives a customer complaint about a third party's misuse of data, or similar violation of the privacy rules.

Disclosure for secondary purpose: A significant achievement is the decision which forbids disclosing such information, without obtaining the customer's prior, express, written authorization. There are exclusions from this restriction when the information is needed by the legal system, in situations of imminent threat to life or property, or is authorized by the Commission.

To be, or not to be? Although opinions as to whether the privacy rules should be adopted differed, it was concluded that such regulations are necessary to clarify the implementation of SB 1476. It was also agreed that the adoption of specific rules and regulations will be of service to the public at large, and that the privacy rules will alleviate the society’s concerns with regards to smart meters.

Other concerns that were addressed will be presented in one of the following issues of the PACWolrd magazine.

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