- Duke Energy Carolinas wants to give customers more financial control over their account, but staff of the North Carolina Utilities Commission said a proposed efficiency program is not the appropriate approach.
- In January, Duke filed for approval of its Prepaid Advantage Energy Efficiency Pilot Program, which would alow customers to pay for their energy use in advance and settle their account on a daily basis.
- The program would also provide usage data and efficiency to enrolled customers, but staff balked at rolling some of advanced metering infrastructure's (AMI) basic functions in an efficiency program.
Customer interest in prepaid options has been around for years. With advanced metering now installed in about a third of homes, Duke Energy had proposed pairing that flexibility with a program aimed at increasing energy efficiency for up to 8,000 customers. But while staff praised the individual aspects of the idea, they also said pre-pay options and usage data should simply be standard options with AMI.
"Customers should receive the full benefits of AMI meter functionality, including the prepaid billing option, as part of normal electric service provided under base rates," staff recommended.
Duke has been replacing older meters with AMI since 2013, and at the end of last year, had replaced about 35% of the meters in its North Carolina service territory. Staff rejected the idea that basic features should be limited to only customers enrolled in the proposed program. The utility does offer pre-pay options in some of its service territories.
Even so, the staff concluded that Duke "should not limit the availability of the functionality and advanced features of AMI meters only to customers enrolled in EE programs, or customers in certain classes or on certain rates...the enhanced billing system and data usage functionality allowed from this advancement in technology should be
provided to all customers."
Staff said if the program were approved, Duke would have recovered its costs in a rider proceeding and receive a bonus utility incentive, plus a net lost revenue incentive, from all customers.
A 2015 survey by DEFG concluded there was strong interest in pre-paid energy options, with about 17% of respondents indicating a high level of interest. Prepaid options, along with app-based energy suggestions and tracking, are also more likely to find favor with millennials.
Despite recommending the proposal be rejected, North Carolina staff encouraged Duke to request approval from the commission to offer a prepay billing option that is not tied to an efficiency program. "Staff further encourages the company to maximize customers’ ability to timely access usage data that is produced by their respective AMI meters," the recommendations concluded.