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The Growing Backlash Against Smart Meters

| Thursday September 2nd, 2010 | 3 Comments

If you think that the task of modernizing our nation’s century-old power grid seems overwhelming, you are not alone. This arduous, complex and multi-faceted transition is underway and even the initial steps are being met with resistance. Wireless devices are essential to a smarter grid and smart meters are a vital component to the overhaul. Smart meters are an advanced version of a home’s traditional electrical meter. They record energy and gas consumption in short intervals and are able to wirelessly transmit information back to a utility for monitoring and billing purposes.

California is on the forefront of the smart metering trend with millions of completed and planned roll outs. Many California residents, however, are joining the fight against the planned installations of smart meters in their homes. The Northern California territory of Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) rolled out meter retrofits to 9 million gas and electric household customers back in 2006 and efforts are ramping up for PG&E customers across southern California as well.

Santa Cruz County Supervisor, John Leopold, stands in opposition to the expansion, citing the daily phone calls he receives from people worried about the health and accuracy of the smart meters. He and others opposed to the roll out are working towards a moratorium on the new technology.

The small town of Fairfax, located in Marin County, California, has already approved a moratorium (Proposition 16) banning the installation of SmartMeters by a vote of 4-0. Many of the town’s residents reported that the wireless devices inaccurately reported gas and electricity usage and critics argued that the electromagnetic radiation produced by the devices could be dangerous. PG&E has denied these claims, stating that the radiation level is too low to do any harm and that the smart meters are meant to reduce energy consumption. They did recognize that thousands of smart meters initially reported inaccuracies.

Many people still aren’t buying it. And really, why should they? A utility company’s business model is to sell power and sell as much of it as they can. They are not in the business of ensuring that their customers save money and their reasons for installing smart meters are going to be self-serving, that is just the truth.

Utilities are looking to modernize the collection of electricity and gas use so that employees no longer have to physically inspect meters to take readings. Given the real-time information a smart meter provides, homeowners can take steps to reduce their energy consumption, but unless energy saving strategies are automated using an energy management system, consumers would still need to institute significant behavioral changes in order to see lower bills.

The concern over smart meters isn’t going to go away quickly. The state of California has commissioned a report, due for release Sept 2, on accuracy issues surrounding the technology. A judge is expected to weigh in on a petition proposed by the city of San Francisco that requests a statewide moratorium on SmartMeters until more is known about them.


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  • Tom Pryor

    Smart Meters are being installed in Texas. Because I read about PG&E customers charging 47 cents per kwh during peak usage times versus the normal 10 cents, I forsee my electricity bills increasing unless I reduce usage and implement renewable energy sources. Personally I feel the radiation argument is weak. The use of smart meters for variable pricing is of greater concern.

  • deano

    Smart or not, the meters don’t concern me as much as: not having a choice of electricity service provider(assuming we want to keep connected to the grid). Community choice aggregation changes that. See cleanpowersf.org for a CCA example.

    As a customer of PG&E, I see lots of good work on their part helping consumers reduce usage. And they are implementing renewable energy sources, albeit slowly. Having some CCA competition would light a fossil fuel fire under their pants and move us rapidly forward into a cleaner energy future.

  • GetSolar

    You’re very right to point out how slow utilities can be in adopting new technologies like smart meters. However, they are not in the business of selling power and selling as much of it as they can. Utility regulation requires a decoupling of profits and sales, which wikipedia explains pretty well: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decoupling#Utility_Regulation

    Utilities are just colossal organizations that don’t change quickly. Many are still fine tuning policies like net metering, which has been around for a long time: http://www.getsolar.com/cost_what-is-net-metering.php