By Audrey Schulman
You can look up your neighbor’s house value, what their mortgage was, how much they paid in taxes, what their home looks like from the street and from above. In many municipalities, you can look up how much water they use per month and if they are behind in the payments.
Why not make all commercial and residential electricity and heating monthly use public info also?
Privacy: There would be an opt-out option for anyone who felt his/her energy use is private. There would be no financial information disclosed.
Expense/Difficulty: Currently, utility companies will not reveal energy use to anyone other than the resident or to a potential renter or buyer for fear of getting sued. With legislation, they could disclose without fear to authorized third parties. There would be no cost to the state and minimal expense or difficulty for the utility companies.
Large utility companies already have data on websites. They would only have to explain how to access data and perhaps pay for increased website services. Utilities might want this because it could create a large increase in efficiency that they could claim and use energy efficiency funding for.
• Efficiency professionals could find who needs help and be more persuasive in selling
• Residents could figure out if they are energy hogs and find solutions
• Energy researchers and policy wonks could learn what decreases energy use
• Website and software aps could be created to provide added efficiency services
Massachusetts is a high-tech state poised to develop many of the future efficiency services. Making energy use public would give a giant boost to fledgling companies (from blue collar to MIT) without any cost to the state. Disclosure would allow ingenuity to provide market-driven solutions.
Competitive Legislation: There is a push to mandate building efficiency labeling at the point of sale or rental, but for most buildings these transactions occur only once every few years. That’s not near enough data for the marketplace to innovate. Also labeling creates additional work and expense for realtors.
Energy efficiency is the cheapest and most abundant source of energy we have. It keeps money in the local economy, saves money for residents, decreases pollution-caused health problems, creates local jobs and reduces climate change. America with its vast energy use is the Saudi Arabia of possible efficiency savings.
Text of the bill:
An Act Requiring the Disclosure of Energy Usage Data
SECTION 1. Section 1F of chapter 164 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 20xx Official Edition, is hereby amended by inserting at the end thereof the following new paragraph:
(10) The Department shall promulgate regulations requiring distribution companies to make individual building energy use history available to the general public. The regulations shall provide for an opt-out provision for any account owner who wishes to keep their energy use private. The regulations shall further provide that all financial information, including dollar amount of bills, payment schedules or missed payments, or account balance shall not be disclosed.
SECTION 2: The Department shall promulgate these regulations within 180 days.
Two possible concerns.
First, I’m unthrilled at the amount of stuff that can be looked up online already, and this is just more of that. Perhaps demographic summaries would be adequate (though more expensive to compile). If the distribution can be published, that would be adequate for comparison. To accomplish this, town database of residents-at-address, combined with bills by address, lets you classify usage by number of occupants. There’s a little error from “occupants” who are away at college, but spread out over the whole town, that should wash out.
Second, “energy use” encompasses gas, fuel oil, and whatever makes your car (if you drive a car) go (which soon, if not now, will sometimes come from the electrical grid). I don’t think the town has ready data on whose stove is electric, whose dryer is electric, who uses a heat pump in the winter, etc, and you would need that to make things remotely comparable — but getting that, would also be somewhat privacy-invading.
I agree that there is comparison imprecision — number of occupants, etc. — and also that this method would not include all energy use.
But it would have some value and be inexpensive to produce. I understand your privacy concerns. My view was that giving people an opt out and combining the monthly data into annual data would be adequate protection. This something that DPU would be empowered to work out and monitor.
I wasn’t sure I followed your thoughts about demographic summaries.
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