Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities Investigates Advanced Metering and Time-Varying Rates for Customers with Electric Vehicles

On July 2, 2020, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities launched an “Investigation into the Modernization of the Electric Grid – Phase Two.”  In this investigation, the DPU will look again at deploying advanced metering capabilities in Massachusetts, this time with a specific focus on customers with electric vehicle charging (including site hosts).

There is history here.  Some readers will recall the previous phase of “Grid Mod,” which began in 2012, involved extensive stakeholder processes, and by 2014 seemed poised to facilitate significant modernizing investments, such as deployment of advanced metering.  Phase I led to a requirement that electric distribution companies prepare multi-year “Grid Modernization Plans,” which were filed, reviewed, and eventually approved in 2018.  Significantly, while the DPU approved “grid-facing” investments in 2018, it declined to approve “customer-facing” investments such as advanced metering capabilities, due to concerns that the benefits would not justify the costs.

Reopening the investigation into possible deployment of advanced metering capabilities is a significant step, even when focused on the currently small subset of customers with electric vehicle charging needs.  Not only is the share of customers with electric vehicles likely to grow, but this investigation may establish approaches that could be applied to broader rollouts of advanced metering in the future.

In particular, the DPU will be looking at time-varying rates and “dynamic pricing” that could leverage the capabilities of advanced metering to benefit customers and overall system usage.  Adoption of time-varying rates for electric vehicle customers could be a testing ground for the effectiveness (and popularity) of such rates.  A successful implementation of time-varying rates for customers with electric vehicles could become a model for more broadly applicable changes to rate structures.  Moreover, if this investigation leads to positive experience with time-varying rates that shows customer adoption and satisfaction, that could significantly change the cost-benefit analysis for rolling out advanced metering more broadly.

The DPU has requested comments on a broad set of questions by August 13, 2020.

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