Why must I have a ‘smart meter’ anyway?

Posted Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Back in 2011, I read with some interest multiple news accounts from across the country of incidents involving electric suppliers installing advanced metering devices (“smart meters”).

There were reports of people getting a new smart meter and suddenly having their electric bill double or triple. There were reports of fires caused by the devices. There were claims of medical hazards from the radiation emitted by these devices, some written by physicians right here in Tarrant County.

There were also claims of potential invasion of privacy due to the meter’s ability to theoretically track what types of appliances were in use at a home and even the ability to tell from that how many people were home.

I admit that I am an “old school” type of person, but I remember thinking that I have lived in this house since 1980, have the same old meter I’ve always had and fail to see what advantages a smart meter would bring to my household.

Accordingly, I wrote a letter to my electricity provider in early 2012, asking that I not be included in the program and saying that I would prefer to keep my old meter.

I received several phone calls after that letter. I was told that “it was the law” and that Oncor (the company that actually owns the electric transmission infrastructure) had a legal right to install a smart meter at my residence. The representative then went on to extol the virtues of the new meter:

• More accuracy

• No need for a meter reader

• Quicker response to service issues

When I told the representative that I had read House Bill 2129 (by state Rep. Dennis Bonnen), which was the enabling legislation for smart meters in Texas and that it said nothing about being a mandatory program, the representative began arguing that it is/was mandatory.

As far as the “benefits” of the smart meter, I told them I could see the benefits to Oncor of getting a few billion dollars worth of brand new free (to them) meters paid for by the citizenry and the cost savings to Oncor of not having to pay all those meter readers any longer.

I saw, however, no benefits to me as the rate payer. I told the representative I had sent them notice by certified mail delivery and expected them to abide by my wishes.

Imagine my shock this week when I received notice from Oncor that they were asking the Public Utility Commission to allow them to charge me $489.20 just to keep my old meter and another $23.75 per month just to read that old meter. This is the same meter that has been working fine for 33 years and that they have been reading for 33 years at no charge to me.

When I began investigating this issue further, I found a letter from Bonnen to the Public Utility Commission written in February 2012 stating that the bill never provided nor intended to provide a mandatory provision for installation of smart meters. He said in his letter “it was always my understanding that customers would have a choice in whether to implement this technology in their homes. So far this has not been the case in my district, and my constituents are being forced to install and pay for these advanced meters.”

So if I correctly understand the issue, people such as myself will either be forced to pay for a technology that I neither want nor need or be forced to pay to keep the technology I have happily used for 33 years and that Oncor has fully depreciated years ago. So, just pay Oncor or pay Oncor?

The self-described mission of the Public Utility Commission is to “protect consumers, foster competition and promote high quality infrastructure.” My old electric meter is probably the only device I have continuously used for 33 years that has never broken and never required an adjustment. I’d call that a “high quality infrastructure” device.

“Foster competition”? Oncor is a monopoly. There is no competition for their service to my house.

“Protect consumers”? My idea of consumer protection does not involve paying Oncor money for something I neither want nor need or paying Oncor money to keep what I have already paid for.

I think the issues are just that simple.

A. R. (Ric) Panzera lives in Bedford.

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