Are “Smart” Electricity Meters Really Smart?
A good many people don't think the new high tech "smart" electricity meters are as smart as their electric utility company says they are. Some people want nothing to do with them, and are fighting efforts to replace the old meters with the new ones.
The new meters provide real-time power-use information to electricity distributors and customers. Industry officials say the information lets customers monitor their electric use more effectively, helps distribution companies respond more quickly to outages and allows electric retail providers to tailor rate plans to customers' usage habits.
The meters also can be read remotely from a central location, which means the utilities won't need "meter readers" anymore. (That's one more job lost to new technology.)
Some homeowners say the new meters know so much about their electricity usage it's an invasion of privacy, and they may even create health risks. Worst of all, many people say, they don't have a choice in the matter. In response to these complaints, the Texas Public Utility Commission is considering a proposal to give customers a choice, and let them opt out of the devices.
A PUC spokesman says the agency has seen no credible evidence of health or safety issues, but decided to explore opt-outs after learning how concerned many people are about the privacy of the data the meters collect, and other matters.
The spokesman says other states, cities and companies are also considering opt-out plans, often charging a stiff fee to customers who decline smart meters. The fees cover extra costs such as in-person meter reading that smart meters don't require.
This resistance to the new meters is leading to some frightening confrontations between homeowners and meter installers. A Houston area homeowner pulled a gun after she and a Centerpoint meter installer got into a heated argument over her refusal to let him switch out her old meter. The installer packed up and left -- in a hurry.
People who want to keep their old low tech meters may get their wish, but they should know that the utility company won't send a meter reader to their house to check it every month. Those customers would have to take the monthly reading themselves, and they should know the company has ways of knowing if people aren't reporting "truthful" readings.