Utilities know a lot about the timing and amount of energy their customers use. WA State legislators recently passed HB1896 to ensure that utilities cannot sell or share this data with others. According to Norma Smith, the sponsoring legislator,
“the bill simply took what was already happening with the IOUs in terms of consumer privacy protection and applied it to the PUDs.”
The data could be valuable and should be kept private. According to Dave Warren’s testimony (of the Washington PUD Association) to the House Committee on Technology and Economic Development:
Access to the data could tell someone: when you’re home, when you come home and plug in your EV, when you take a shower. We strongly support privacy of usage data.”
As an electric customer myself I appreciate this bill. I wouldn’t want information about what time my hot water heater comes on or patterns about when I’m out of town getting into the wrong hands, even if those hands are well intentioned (say, for a plumber or a home security company?)
However, as an entrepreneur in the energy space I’m left scratching my head about a few of the clauses in the bill, and the use of the word “information”. In short, the bill says that any information made available “solely by virtue of the utility-customer relationship” shall be kept private; not sold. It offers a good definition “proprietary information” as something related to the energy use (i.e., kWh, kW, bill payment history, energy usage patterns) of a retail customer. But then it throws in awkward language in section 4 that says “A person may not capture or obtain private or proprietary customer information for a commercial purpose.” Hmmm. Without reiterating “energy use” before the word “information” it leaves me wondering if this bill could be used to reach beyond energy use data and apply to the whole universe of data? See my questions in the table below.
Without going too deep (I hope), here’s a quick analysis by yours truly about what the bill says, and where I have questions. Is there a forum for airing these questions?
|What the bill says||My Notes/interpretation/questions|
|Title: “An act relating to …customer energy use information”||OK, this bill is about customer energy use information.|
|“Proprietary customer information” means information that relates to the source and amount of electricity used by a retail electric customer, a retail electric customer’s payment history, household data, and information contained in an electric bill||The bill is about energy information and other information that might be found on a utility bill.|
|“Prohibits an electric utility from disclosing or selling… data”||Utilities cannot sell this data.|
|“…for the purposes of marketing…”||Utilities cannot sell this data to others for purpose marketing. (Caveats added later in the bill but I won’t go into that here).|
|Prohibits the “the capture or disclosure of private or proprietary customer information …[without consent.]||Question: are we still just talking about “customer energy use” information or does this encompass the whole world? If a customer purchased a red car (or, say heat pump), is this private information?|
|“Data… made available by the customer solely by virtue of the utility-customer relationship”||OK, if you are a utility and you have special, personal information about your customer’s energy usage or about their household (say, income level or payment history) you can’t share this.|
|Section 4: ”A person may not capture or obtain private or proprietary customer information…”||Same question as above: are we still talking customer energy use information, or the universe?|