Regulators and utilities in North Carolina agree that more information needs to be shared about smart-grid deployment in the state, but they're not yet synced on what information that should be.

The North Carolina Utilities Commission has proposed that each utility file a "smart grid technology plan" as part of its biennial resource plans. Two of the three utilities regulated by the NCUC have counterproposed to limit their reporting to the "impacts" their technology deployment is having on their operations.

The difference boils down to advance disclosure vs. follow-up reporting. The regulators and utilities also disagree on how certain information on smart grid interactivity and customer control should be handled.

How they resolve the issues will be worth watching.

With multiple population centers and diverse demographic and political segments served by three major utilities, North Carolina would be a valuable case study for rollouts elsewhere.

The utilities involved are Duke Energy Carolinas, Dominion North Carolina Power and Progress Energy Carolinas. All three have major operations in other states including Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and South Carolina, so the North Carolina proceeding could produce a regulatory template.

The duel's roots go back three months, when the NCUC voted against adopting federal standards on smart grid investments and functionality that were included in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Citing input from utilities, consumer advocates and big electricity consumers, the commission declared that "policies and a regulatory framework accomplishing the same goals . . . already exist in this state."

The NCUC followed up by proposing numerous smart-grid related amendments to its Integrated Resource Plan rules.

The IRP is a biennial process in which each utility obtains approval for the mix of generation, purchased power, conservation and efficiency actions they will use to meet customer demand. Commissioners reasoned that smart-grid development should be addressed in the IRP based on the potential effect it has on demand, time of use and other factors, both known and unknown.

Duke and Dominion collaborated on alternative amendments. Progress did not offer comments or an alternative approach.

However, Progress disclosed in a Jan. 26 presentation to the NCUC that it is working on both smart grid and battery storage initiatives in the state. A Progress spokesman told GTM that the company "will likely file a reply" to the alternative offered by Duke and Dominion.

Besides their preference for retrospective disclosure only, Duke and Dominion want to include in the reporting a comparison of megawatt load with and without smart grid technology. They also want to compare the megawatt-denominated impacts and program cost by customer class.

The utilities oppose disclosure in their IRPs of financial metrics such as capital layouts, cost-benefit analyses, evaluation of facilities obsoleted by smart-grid deployment.

They say that if they're forced to comply with the reporting requirements proposed by the commission, they "would be burdened unnecessarily with the details of smart grid programs that have not been fully developed, may not have been deployed, and that may be subject to frequent changes."

Absent from the utilities' counterproposal is any reference to "real-time, automated, interactive technologies that optimize operation of consumer devices and appliances" and "control options" for customers -- both of which are explicit in the commission's proposal.

Raleigh attorney Robert Kaylor, the utilities' representative before the NCUC, did not respond to a request for the reasoning behind those omissions.

The NCUC now has the ball and must act based on the utilities' input and that of other parties to the proceeding. A commission staff member said that an order is forthcoming, but he wouldn't discuss internal deliberations or give a timetable.

Stephen Munro is a D.C.-based analyst and journalist specializing in state and federal utility regulation. Contact him on (202) 744-8553 or [email protected].