Green energy advocates say Anchorage electric utility is "freezing out" efforts to draft a gas-saving price structure
Renewable Energy Alaska Project wants state regulators to step in and force Chugach Electric Association to hand over detailed data on customers' energy consumption.
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A green power advocacy group says Anchorage’s electric utility is thwarting its efforts to propose an energy-saving payment scheme for customers, and it’s asking state regulators to step in to force the utility to hand over detailed data.
The data request by Renewable Energy Alaska Project, an Anchorage-based nonprofit, has prompted a torrent of opposition from Chugach Electric Association, the city’s big power cooperative, and an array of other utilities in the region. They’ve asked the Regulatory Commission of Alaska to deny the request from the nonprofit, known as REAP.
The utilities say REAP is asking for sensitive data about each customer’s energy use and that disclosure would amount to an invasion of privacy.
REAP says it would keep the data confidential but that it’s needed to design a set of rates for Chugach’s member-customers aimed at reducing the consumption of natural gas. The Anchorage-area utility that distributes gas for home and commercial heating, Enstar, has warned that the region faces a shortfall as soon as next year, and electric utilities also depend on the fuel to generate the vast majority of their power.
“We’re just trying to help,” said Hannah Payne, an attorney at the law firm Earthjustice who’s working with REAP. “REAP wants to come to the best possible solutions for Chugach, for the commission, for ratepayers, for everyone. And it’s a little frustrating to be shut out of the process.”
The dispute is playing out in dozens of pages of dense, technical motions and responses filed with the commission, known as the RCA.
The arguments are part of a larger proceeding before the RCA known as a rate case.
As a regulated utility, Chugach needs RCA approval before it can raise its rates. The utility opened such a case last year, asking the commission to approve an increase of an average of 5.9%.
A number of businesses, advocacy groups and other utilities received approval to participate as intervenors in the ensuing rate case before the RCA. The case unfolds somewhat akin to a lawsuit, with the parties requesting documents and information from Chugach through a process known as discovery.
The dispute over the data, REAP said in one of its filings, began as part of discovery. REAP asked Chugach for monthly energy consumption data broken down to the individual customer or meter level.
The data, REAP said, is needed so it can design an energy-saving alternative to the flat, per-kilowatt hour rates proposed by Chugach.
REAP’S proposal, for example, could ratchet up prices as customers hit certain thresholds of consumption each month, which could incentivize them to use less power, put up rooftop solar panels or install energy efficiency upgrades.
State regulations require such non-flat rates to be supported by “appropriate justification and analysis,” which is why REAP needs the detailed data, it said.
After multiple meetings and negotiations, REAP said that Chugach refused to turn over the data and would only agree to do so if ordered by the commission. In response, REAP last week filed a motion asking the commission to do just that, saying Chugach was attempting to “freeze out” its meaningful participation in the rate case.
Chugach declined to comment outside of its formal, 17-page response, which was filed Monday. In it, the utility’s attorneys said that REAP’s interests “are insufficient to justify breaching the privacy of hundreds of thousands of people by disclosing their addresses and electricity consumption data on an individualized basis without the customers’ consent.”
Chugach would have to “perform extensive new analyses” and dedicate 140 hours of labor in order to produce the data, it added.
“Why should REAP be able to require Chugach to spend thousands of dollars and more than 140 hours of employee and consultant time and resources, so that REAP (and the rest of the intervening parties) can inspect the actual electricity consumption habits of virtually every resident and business in Anchorage and know where they are located?” the utility wrote. “Is the value of REAP unduly broadening the scope of this proceeding to propose untested ‘innovative rate structures’ really worth requiring this financial and labor burden on Chugach…?”
Chugach argues that a commission order requiring release of the data would create a precedent and lead to other utilities having to give up similar information in future proceedings. All four of Southcentral Alaska’s other major electric utilities — Homer Electric Association, Matanuska Electric Association, Golden Valley Electric Association and Seward Electric Services — also filed statements opposing REAP’s request.
REAP, in a final reply to the utilities filed Wednesday, said that concerns about customer privacy are "exaggerated," and that the utilities have not explained why a confidentiality agreement would be insufficient to protect the data.
That data should already have been assembled by Chugach, REAP says, in order to comply with previous instructions it had received by the commission.
Chugach bought Anchorage’s city-owned electric utility in 2020, and as part of its approval of the deal, the commission directed the new, merged utility to align the rates of the two different groups of customers. It also said that the rates for those two sets of customers should be proportional to their demand for power.
REAP is asking the commission for expedited consideration of its request, with a decision by Tuesday.
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