Conn. AG: Agency complied with law

Jessica M. Karmasek Oct. 4, 2011, 1:51pm


Jepsen

HARTFORD, Conn. (Legal Newsline) - Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said last week that a state agency complied with state law in asking utility regulators to temporarily suspend proceedings on the issue of smart meters.

Consumer Counsel Mary Healey had requested Jepsen's opinion on the matter. The Office of Consumer Counsel is the state's advocate for all utility ratepayers.

In particular, Healey asked the attorney general about the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection's action and the relationship between the agency and the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, which was folded into DEEP as part of a government reorganization approved by the General Assembly.

Jepsen, in his five-page opinion to Healey on Friday, says DEEP's actions were "entirely consistent" with Public Act 11-80 and the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act.

Public Act 11-80 authorized the DEEP commissioner to set energy policy prospectively through two energy planning proceedings: the Comprehensive Energy Plan and the Integrated Resources Plan. The Legislature further provided that PURA would be guided by the goals of DEEP and by the goals of those plans.

However, Jepsen says DEEP's status before PURA is "no different from any other interested participant in contested PURA proceedings."

"If is of course common and entirely appropriate for interested participants, including state officials and agencies, to state their positions and preferences before appropriate decision-making authorities in contested proceedings," he wrote to Healey.

"Such participation better informs the decision-making authority and promotes the fairness and integrity of the administrative process."

In its Sept. 1 filing, DEEP asked PURA to suspend a proceeding while the Bureau of Energy and Technology Policy conducts an open, public process to establish the state's smart meter policy.

Jepsen notes that this request was "made in an open and public manner, with notice to all parties involved, and consistent with the UAPA and PURA's established practices and procedures."

The request was not binding on PURA, he says, as PURA alone is the final decision-maker in contested administrative proceedings.

DEEP's request also was consistent with the intent of Public Act 11-80.

"Suspension would allow DEEP the opportunity to set smart meter policy on a statewide basis and guide PURA's decisions in the (Connecticut Light and Power Co.) case and other subsequent proceedings," Jepsen wrote.

The attorney general says his office filed an Aug. 31 letter in support of DEEP's request "because of the state legislative intent that DEEP set smart meter policy for the state and quite simply because it made good sense to do so."

"Questions about smart metering and effective time of use rates are complicated," he wrote.

"Despite the potential benefits of smart meters, it appears that the majority of jurisdictions are cautiously approaching implementation of this technology."

Smart metering enables centralized meter reading, so meter readers don't have to visit individual premises for data collection. However, a meter may need to be examined occasionally for testing and maintenance.

Using a communications network, the internal antenna present in smart meters sends electricity consumption data to the utility.

An external antenna may be required in some cases for improving signals over longer distances and ensuring reliable data transmission. This antenna can be attached on or near the meter box.

Smart meters also can record the energy that a household feeds back into the distribution network from co-generation sources, such as wind turbines and solar panels.

In his opinion, Jepsen says states such as Texas, California and Colorado are facing challenges related to their early implementation of smart metering.

"The issues are complex, requiring a cohesive, well-developed policy in this area," he wrote.

The attorney general says a suspension will allow DEEP an opportunity to solicit public comment and better formulate its policies.

DEEP's request was "in my view legally appropriate, and I so advised DEEP before it sent the letter," he wrote.

Jepsen notes in his opinion to Healey that neither DEEP's letter nor PURA's decision to suspend the schedule suggests or imposes any limitations on the "continued participation of other parties or intervenors in this proceeding."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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