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California Adopts Online Consent Procedure to Ease DR Enrollment

In comportment with state policies advancing participation in demand response (DR) initiatives, the California Public Utilities Commission has drafted a set of procedures that will make it faster and more convenient for customers to subscribe to demand response programs administered by a third-party provider.

Acknowledging that a customer's first step in signing up for such a program is consenting to dissemination of the customer's energy-related data by their presently serving utility, the commission established a new "clickthrough authorization" process for such consent. The commission explained that before a demand response entity can provide DR services, the entity must be informed about the prospective customer's energy usage history.

However, the commission has various rules and regulations in place that proscribe a utility from conveying such data to a nonutility third-party vendor absent explicit consent from the customer. Under existing standards, a customer gives the requisite assent using a paper form or through the utility's individual website, both of which can be time-consuming and confusing.

Indeed, Commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves described the present system as "onerous." She lauded the new electronic protocol as one that will protect customer privacy while simultaneously allowing DR providers to register new enrollees more expeditiously.

Aware that the current process for authorizing release of a customer's energy data represented a serious drawback to competitive DR and created unnecessary and frustrating delays on the part of interested consumers, the commission convened a working group through which to explore different avenues for improving the consent process. According to the commission, the end result - the click-through authorization platform - will be a significant step forward in streamlining, simplifying, and automating the process.

The commission charged the state's three largest electric utilities with developing an online authorization regimen under which a customer need see no more than two screens and use no more than four clicks in assuring a "quick path" to consent. The process must be optimized for mobile applications as well as standard desktop systems. The commission told the utilities that they must give DR providers the option of preregistering or preselecting their preferred time frames for commencing service.

In addition, the new process must arrange for customers to be notified, whether by email or text message, of their successful completion of the online consent form. Cognizant that there is a cost involved in designing the software and other support systems for the authorization platform, the commission said that funding in the amount of $12 million had been approved for the three utilities. Those three are Pacific Gas & Electric Company, San Diego Gas & Electric Company, and Southern California Edison Company.

The commission added that any ongoing concerns will be considered and resolved by a newly constituted Customer Data Access Committee. Re Utilities' Click-Through Authorization Process, Resolution E-4868, Aug. 25, 2017 (Cal.P.U.C.).