Underutilized, expensive and with limited functionality, Smart Meter Texas always was meant to encourage energy-saving technology — but it never lived up to its promise.

Now, however, the state-sponsored website for electricity consumers is getting a top-to-bottom overhaul.

The Texas Public Utility Commission on May 25 agreed to important changes to Smart Meter Texas that will impact both the website’s operations and the manner in which consumers and third-party businesses access it.  The result of long negotiations between consumer groups, energy services companies, PUC staff and others, the regulatory decision means a new version of the website — Smart Meter Texas 2.0 — should be up and running by 2020.

Jamie Mauldin

Jamie Mauldin, an attorney for the Oncor Cities Steering Committee, said the Smart Meter Texas settlement protects consumers’ privacy, keeps a lid on costs and supports the deregulated retail electric market.

“This is a good, balanced deal for ratepayers, energy businesses and the state’s deregulated retail market,” said Mauldin of the OCSC, which helped negotiate the PUC-approved settlement agreement.

Operated by the state’s major transmission and distribution utilities, Smart Meter Texas allows consumers to plug in data from their home electricity meters to track their usage on a monthly or daily basis, or even in 15-minute intervals. The interactive website has been active for years, although even its greatest supporters acknowledge it was never popular. Less than 1.5 percent of eligible residential consumers ever accessed Smart Meter Texas, according to estimates, but it has cost ratepayers about $9 million annually to maintain.

However, under terms of the deal, the annual cost of maintaining the website will be lower than the current contracted cost.

The new rules also grant easier access to smart meter data to advanced energy services vendors — that is, those companies that sell energy efficiency, demand response, energy audit and other similar services. Under the terms of the deal, consumers no longer must set up a Smart Meter Texas account before granting such  companies access to their advanced meter data. It’s thought that this aspect of the new agreement will encourage technological development in the deregulated market.

State law, however, makes it clear that Texas consumers own their personal advanced meter data and last month’s PUC-approved agreement does nothing to undermine those mandated privacy protections. The agreement makes it clear that outside vendors must obtain  pre-authorization from customers to access their meter data, and that such authorization expires within 12 months. This means that third-party energy firms must return to home customers each year if they want to continue accessing their data.

Importantly, the new Smart Meter Texas 2.0, as contemplated under the PUC-approved settlement agreement, will generate usage data in a standardized format that is common in other states. Advanced energy companies say this concession should encourage the development of software apps to help consumers leverage their advanced meter data.

“Standardization lowers barriers to market development,” said Suzanne L. Bertin, director of the Texas Advanced Energy Business Alliance, an advanced energy services industry group. “The settlement also makes account creation optional for customers and (therefore) turns the customer permission process into a one-click email confirmation.”

Other provisions of the settlement agreement include:

  • All customers must affirmatively opt-in to sharing their data with vendors. Customers also maintain the right to opt-out.
  • Upon receiving email from a customer confirming authorization to share data, the Smart Meter Texas website will generate a follow-up email notice that confirms the request and that also explains to the customer that he or she is free to terminate the data-sharing agreement.
  • Third-party vendors that engage in “red flag” behaviors such as interfering or falsifying customer information, failing to terminate data access upon request or sharing information without authorization face immediate suspension or revocation of data access.
  • The website will employ the standardized “Green Button” data and coding format when it generates historic energy usage data. Many other states with digital smart meter systems also employ this data format.
  • Smart Meter Texas 2.0 will no longer support Home Area Network functionality, although individual transmission and distribution utilities must maintain access for existing customers who request it. Home Area Network devices include smart thermostats and smart appliances that work with digital smart meters.

— R.A. Dyer