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Web site tracks electricity consumption for smart-meter users

Posted Wednesday, Mar. 24, 2010  comments  Print Reprints
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A new Web site offers Texas power consumers with "smart" meters an opportunity to get a better handle on their electricity consumption patterns and potentially shrink their monthly bills.

The Web site, www.smartmetertexas.com, was announced Tuesday by the Texas Public Utility Commission. PUC Chairman Barry Smitherman said the information provided by the site "gives Texans more control over their electricity use."

More than 1 million power customers in the service territories of transmission and distribution companies Oncor Electric Delivery and CenterPoint Energy already have the new advanced digital meters.

More than 760,000 smart meters, including tens of thousands in Tarrant County, have been installed by Oncor, which operates in North, Central and East Texas. Oncor plans to install 3.4 million smart meters throughout its entire system by the end of 2012.

Through the free Web site, customers can view and analyze their electricity use via daily, weekly or monthly reports that break down consumption at intervals as short as 15 minutes. Information about electricity usage for a particular day could be available on the Web site within a day after the consumption occurred, Oncor spokesman Chris Schein said.

Potential cost savings

He said Oncor officials believe that a 10 percent cost savings on electric bills is "very achievable" if consumers spend a modest amount of time analyzing their consumption on the site and then take reasonable steps to reduce their usage.

Over the course of a year, the average monthly electric bill for a single-family home in the Oncor service territory is about $180 per month, Schein said. A 10 percent reduction could save more than $200 a year, he said.

The Web site is available to both residential and business customers who have smart meters, but the PUC said it could take up to 60 days after a new meter's installation before a customer's usage information is on the Web site. But the time gap could be less than a month. The Web site will not be available to power customers of municipally owned utilities and cooperatives that operate outside Texas' competitive, deregulated electricity market, the PUC said.

IBM developed the Web site and will operate it under the direction of four transmission and distribution companies, including Oncor; CenterPoint, which serves the Houston area; AEP Texas Central, which serves Corpus Christi and the Rio Grande Valley; and AEP Texas North, which serves parts of West Texas.

Oncor defends new meters

Some residents of North and Central Texas have blamed the new smart meters for soaring winter electric bills. But Oncor said testing has shown that the meters are accurate and that the higher bills are the result of consumers' sharply increasing power consumption during exceptionally cold weather.

Proponents of the smart meters say they will allow Oncor to pinpoint power outages more precisely and quickly, thus enabling the company to restore power sooner. The meters will enable power to a home or business to be initiated or shut off remotely and will eliminate the need for meter readers.

In order to access electricity consumption information on the new Web site, consumers with smart meters will need to follow instructions on how to set up an online account.

With the coming of smart meters, some retail electric providers, including TXU Energy and Reliant Energy, are offering "time-of-use" rate plans that charge higher rates during periods of peak systemwide power consumption and sharply lower rates during times of low consumption.

Eventually, many electric consumers with smart meters are likely to have in-home monitors that display electricity consumption levels on a virtually instant, "real-time" basis, and "smart appliances" programmed to go into a power conservation modes during peak-consumption periods, Schein said.

JACK Z. SMITH, 817-390-7724

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