OLYMPIA – State regulators have approved new rules for advanced meter infrastructure, or smart meters, concluding a two-year rulemaking process.

The Utilities and Transportation Commission’s new rules provide guidance to investor-owned utilities employing smart meter technology for residential customers, focusing on protecting customer information and ensuring continuity of service. These rules do not affect customers’ ability to opt out of using smart meters.

Smart meters gather customer usage data through two-way communication between the meter and a utility and are critical to advanced grid investment, helping utilities prepare for future grid demand. Smart meters may provide automated customer outage detection, energy consumption alerts, and instant service reconnection.

Privacy measures
Under the commission’s new rules, companies must take all reasonable data privacy measures possible to safeguard customer information. These provisions include the following requirements:

Companies may only collect and keep personally identifiable information from customers that is necessary to provide services.

The company must provide customers access to their own private information through a secure, convenient, and user-friendly website.

Companies must receive written consent, paper or digital, from customers before releasing identifying information to third parties, and only when needed for an authorized business need.

Companies should respond to customer information requests about their personal data within 10 business days.

Companies must notify customers and the commission of any security breaches, including the nature and extent of the breach, and the steps they take to recover data and prevent the further loss of personally identifiable information.

To protect vulnerable customers, the updated rules provide specific consumer protection guidelines for how and when companies may use smart meters to disconnect customers involuntarily for nonpayment once the COVID-19-related pause on disconnections ends. Companies must provide multiple notices to customers before involuntary disconnection. Delivery options include electronic communication, telephone, regular mail, and attaching notices to the customer’s door. Service cannot be disconnected on Saturdays, Sundays, or legal holidays.

Companies must also educate customers about the winter low-income payment program and establish conditions under which the utility will not disconnect service during the winter months when colder weather makes disconnection detrimental to health and safety. The rules also maintain and enhance special protections for low-income customers and customers with medical conditions.

The rules became effective Aug. 29.
The commission previously published a policy statement, requiring companies using smart meters to create a transition plan and allow customers concerned about their privacy to opt-out of the smart meter adoption.