Smart Meter backlash

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Bloomberg News reports a fast-growing consumer movement in opposition to smart meters.   Smart meters, so called because they allow real-time usage monitoring, originally were pitched by the industry as a boon to consumers for increasing control over consumption.

The gadgets that bring the so-called smart grid into your home are being foisted on consumers for the convenience of the Utility companies. With the new wi-fi meters sending user data back to base, Utilities no longer need to employ meter readers, but still want to charge end-users for the installation, as well as picking up substantial government grants.

Now a growing consumer backlash is slowing U.S. utilities’ network upgrade. Bloomberg puts a figure of $29 billion on the project but the true costs is far higher. One consultancy put the total at $1.5 TRILLION.

States including California, Maine and Vermont have responded to customer concerns about higher bills and safety by offering them the option of keeping their conventional devices for an extra charge.

The fee may discourage drop-outs from the “smart-meter” program, in which household usage data is transmitted over radio waves to local utilities such as PG&E Corp. (PCG), Central Maine Power Co. and Central Vermont Public Service Corp. (CV), which can use the information to charge higher rates during times of peak demand.

“Charging fees for opting out is pretty outrageous,” Charles Acquard, executive director of National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates, which represents 44 consumer groups in 40 states, said by telephone.

Escalating consumer opposition is delaying efforts to deliver power more efficiently because the gadgets anchor next- generation transmission grids. Several utilities, including one owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK/A), are holding off on roll-out plans until regulators decide whether they can force consumers to pay costs for the technology that utilities also refuse to pick up.

Smart meters, so called because they allow real-time usage monitoring, originally were pitched by the industry as a boon to consumers for increasing control over consumption. While the effort won grants from the Obama administration, consumer advocates say benefits have yet to materialize as promised.

Rising Opposition

A minority of customers complained the devices instead raise their bills, compromise privacy and risk their health with electro-magnetic fields emitted by the wireless technology. In California, more than 50 local governments are opposing use of the smart meters, according to Joshua Hart, director of Stop Smart Meters, a Santa Cruz County-based consumer group.

At the behest of state regulators, utilities such as San Francisco-based PG&E and Edison International of Rosemead, California, plan to use the meters to offer plans that would charge higher rates during peak usage-times such as summer heat waves or winter storms. The devices also promise to save utilities money by eliminating meter readers, shortening response times to power failures, and allowing for remote switching when turning service on or off.

While the companies anticipate cost savings, they’ve pushed for the expense of buying and installing the new meters to be passed on through customer bills.

Meeting Safety Guidelines

Smart meters must meet Federal Communications Commission guidelines on emission levels and those that meet the standards and are installed properly are safe, agency spokesman Neil Grace said.

California regulators have approved smart meter programs and decided households that don’t want a wireless unit should pay for the costs of continuing to use their old devices, said Terrie Prosper, a spokeswoman for the California Public Utilities Commission.

Utilities, which back the state-imposed fees, say charging consumers for keeping their old mechanical meters will pay for the workers dispatched to homes and businesses each month to record usage by hand, the old-fashioned way.

About 27 million smart meters have been installed as of September 2011, according to the Institute for Electric Efficiency, a Washington-based lobby group financed by investor-owned utilities. It used to be known as the Edison Institute and has been a front organisation for multi-billion dollar consumer education campaigns ever since the Grid was first created.  By 2015, about 65 million, or about half, of U.S. homes will have a wireless meter, according to the group.

‘Model for Broadband’

Those opposed to the state-driven mandates say forcing customers to use smart meters is like making someone pay to have a high-speed Internet connection.

“We kind of like the model for broadband, where nobody is forced to take it, but people see the value in it and are willing to pay more for it,” said Mark Toney, executive director of the Utility Reform Network, a San Francisco-based consumer advocacy group.

Catharine Gunderson, 59, a retired teacher, said she installed a cage around her traditional meter on her home in Santa Cruz, California, to prevent PG&E from swapping them for a wireless unit.

“I feel like it’s extortion,” Gunderson said about the opt-out fees. Gunderson said she’s concerned about the health effects of smart meters and recently paid to keep her traditional meter.

Holding Off Deployment

The meters are key to the “smart grid” being rolled out nationwide to increase delivery flexibility. Investment by utilities in the new grid has totaled $15.4 billion through the first quarter of 2012 and is projected to increase by another $13.4 billion through 2015, said Theodore Hesser, an analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Not all companies are plowing ahead. In November, MidAmerican Energy Co., a utility owned by Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, told Iowa regulators it was waiting to deploy electric smart meters while it assesses how other power companies address complaints.

Alliant Energy Corp. (LNT)’s Iowa utility told state regulators that concerns about raising customer bills and rapidly changing technology were among the reasons keeping it on the sidelines, even as it hard-sells the idea to consumers

Last fall, Connecticut delayed its decision on Northeast Utilities (NU)’ proposal to install 1.2 million smart meters, saying it needed time to establish a state policy on the technology.

How Consumers Benefit

Even if a minority of customers keeps their old meters, PG&E still will be able to realize savings from the upgrade, said Helen Burt, PG&E senior vice president and chief customer officer.

PG&E “wants to accommodate” residents who don’t want a wireless meter and is reaching out to inform residents about the benefits of tracking energy use on its website and signing up for energy conservation programs, Burt said.

Edison International (EIX)’s Southern California Edison, the state’s second-largest utility, said about 28,000 customers have asked for a delay of a smart meter installation out of 4.9 million customers, said Ken Devore, director of the utility’s smart grid program.

That will not interfere with its program that can offer benefits such as tracking and saving on energy use, he said. “These are safe, secure and high quality devices,” he said.

Allowing Meter Choice

An increasing number of states are moving to motivate consumers to go along by permitting utilities to charge those who refuse the meters to pay an extra monthly fee. State regulators see “smart” technology as a way of reducing power consumption during periods of peak demand, reducing the need to build expensive power plants and easing the potential for black- outs from capacity that can’t keep up with urban growth.

Nine U.S. states including Texas and Michigan are either considering allowing customers to decline a smart meter or are allowing for that option, according to state regulatory filings and an April 2012 report from the Edison Electric Institute, a Washington-based industry lobbying group.

In California, most customers will have to pay an initial fee of $75 and then a monthly charge of $10 to keep their traditional meter. At PG&E, fees could hike monthly power bills on average by about 12 percent, based on an average bill of $84, said Greg Snapper, a PG&E spokesman.

About 26,800 PG&E customers out of 5.4 million have decided to keep their mechanical meters, Snapper said in an e-mail.

More Accurate Measurement

More than 90 percent of PG&E customers now have a smart meter as part of a more than $2.2 billion program to deploy at least 9.7 million wireless electric and gas units, Burt said.

The utility’s roll-out of the devices, which started in 2006, has been fraught with complications including customer accusations that the smart meters were overcharging. In 2010, state regulators commissioned a study that found the measurements were reliable. Burt of PG&E said the devices are more accurate than traditional analog meters.

Regulators and utilities also point to government studies that say the devices are safe. In 2011, the California Council on Science and Technology, a state-created technology advisory board, said in a report it found no evidence from scientific studies that smart meters were harmful and the devices emit far less radio-frequency energy than microwaves or mobile phones.



8 Responses

  1. Since installing the smart meter on my rental home (even after I demanded they leave the analog meter) my air conditioning trips my breaker on a weekly basis. Had never happened in the previous 13 years and AC contractor can find nothing wrong with unit. Lucky for me FPL isn’t responsible for any damage they cause to my home even if they have installed a faulty smart meter without my approval. Happy days

  2. You’ll have to buy new “smart” meters about as often as you buy a new computer…..General Electric in China loves you having to buy new meters every 3 years..
    I don’t know of anyone that had to buy a new analog meter..

  3. My oven, which has worked fine for the 10 years I’ve owned my house suddenly trips the main electrical breaker the instant I turn it on. I haven’t used it since April thinking I needed to save money for a new oven and/or electrical repairs. It seemed strange that it didn’t trip the oven breaker…it tripped the main. I started researching on line and I found several complaints from people that said smart meters had caused this very thing to happen to them and worse including fires. I have worked away form home for weeks at a time since January. I got a notice about the smart meter and thought it must be a good thing. I noticed the shiny new thing but never gave it another thought. Now I’ve realized my breaker problems started right after the Smart meter was installed. I’m going to call Edison tomorrow. I will be stuck with the opt out fees but I don’t want my house to burn down!

  4. The smart meter issue is what brought me to this site. Wondering if I have the cajones to go off the grid just a few miles from Disneyland and tell them to take their $75 opt-out fee and $10 monthy charge and shove it.

  5. Imagine that, the utility company makes it sound like it’s all for the people. In fact, it’s all for the utility company, or (as in the last comment) possibly something more sinister.

  6. If they are in fact more accurate, then by how much? So what they are really saying is that they have been over charging customers for decades!

    It would be rather humorous and poetic, to see customers bring class action law suits to comp their losses!

    I know of people who are talking about using them to hack into peoples houses, stating 24/7 access to every house on the network. From that point, they could hack into your cellphones, computers, security systems, (think about people whose security equipment has cameras! or even your phones camera, seeing and listening to everything you say or do!)

    Dont think for a second that there arnt people thinking about, or are doing it, if they can hack the CIA, Treasury dept, NSA and homeland security that use state of the art technology and security protocols, then seriously low grade wifi set ups like this are a joke!
    It isnt anything more than a wifi router, and they get hacked just for sport! best case is just people stealing your bandwidth.
    FYI, this type of surveillance isn’t so different than whats going on in Europe, next will be cameras on every street corner. ( in my state, cameras are already a normal feature, everything from the freeways and highways, to major intersections, and now moving to some minor intersections, and beyond.

    On one hack blog, they were talking about pinching off a percent of utility usage, from dozens of homes and transferring the data percentages to their homes. Rounding off and compounding the balances an what not, just like whats been done to many banks.

    Who cares about what the units cost, or what they might save, people stand to lose ALOT more in the long run, like freedom, security and privacy.

    This is a big reason why 2 years ago I decided to retire, and quit working for the FED GOV, moved off-grid, just couldn’t stand to see how they justify and find ways around, to circumvent our rights, (basically, if the technology exists, they can crack it, and until its discovered and laws made to try to prevent it, its a free for all. ESP under the HS act.) and I wasn’t going to be party to this anymore, even if my role was very insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

    Its a hard thing to see things that are blatantly wrong, but have to turn a blind eye to as a matter of routine.

    It seems like such a minor technology, and so is the phone, but anything that gives direct access to your home, your data, your appliances, your privacy and freedom, isn’t minor.

  7. Yes, they are more accurate. But they cost4-5 times more than one the meter reader comes to read once a month. Don’t let them fool you. You are paying for this meter, and the system that keeps it running. Your utility could employ meter readers for about 10 years for the same cost (that includes changing and testing current meters). Next, the new meters and not very durable. They are very susceptable to heat and lightning. Thus adding to their cost (once they’re out of warranty), as they are throw away technology. I could keep going, but I think you get the idea.

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