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Better data access, pilot projects part of DC grid modernization proposal

The Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia is offering a look at how it could begin to modernize the city's energy grid.

A staff proposed order released Aug. 2 addresses a series of recommendations intended to advance a vision for making the district's electricity and gas delivery systems more sustainable, reliable and efficient. The recommendations, included in a report delivered to the commission at the end of May, were the result of a working group process involving a variety of interests.

Commission Chairman Willie Phillips had pledged to rule on the recommendations within 60 days after receiving the report. However, rather than issue an order as expected July 31, the commission voted to issue for public comment the proposed staff order in response to what Phillips called "unprecedented interest."

Those interested have 45 days and 60 days from release of the proposed decision to file initial and reply comments, respectively. The commission will consider comments before making a final decision.

The proposed order describes the next stages of grid modernization as "Power Path DC," replacing the moniker, "Modernizing the Energy Delivery System for Increased Sustainability."

Among other things, the proposal calls for creating secured utility web portals to enhance third-party data access to utility information and for a new website to host competitive energy supplier offers.

The proposed order also includes forming a governance board to oversee the submission and selection of a $21.55 million pilot projects program. Money for the program was set aside as a condition to the commission's March 2016 approval of Exelon Corp.'s acquisition of Pepco Holdings.

The proposed order sides with a recommendation that energy efficiency programs not be excluded as potential pilot projects and that unregulated subsidiaries of Potomac Electric Power Co. and gas utility Washington Gas Light Co. should not lead pilot projects but should not be prevented from participating in them.

It also encourages the governance board to adopt an implementation timeline to select pilot projects by the end of 2020, which is later than a recommendation to pick projects by the end of the second quarter of 2020. The recommended timeline is "too aggressive," the proposed order said.

"While accomplishing all of these tasks may be possible in 10 months, we find it is not probable, and we want to temper stakeholder expectations by implementing realistic timeframes," the proposed order said.

The proposed order also calls for certain issues to be dealt with separately from the grid modernization case. This includes a proposed directive for commission staff to open a notice of inquiry to address ownership of energy storage devices and other distributed energy resources. Regulators would also defer discussion about microgrid-related issues until the commission rules on a separate case dealing with jurisdiction over microgrids. (DC PSC Formal Case No. 1130)