Someone is finally listening to Texans who say they don't want smart electricity meters at their homes. And the listener is the one that matters most: the Public Utility Commission of Texas.
An underground movement to stop the installation of 3 million smart meters in Oncor's service area and elsewhere across the state has moved off the Internet and into the mainstream. The PUC is accepting comments from the public about whether there should be a provision allowing customers to reject installation.
But those who want to get involved better hurry. Comments must be received in the mail at PUC offices in Austin by Monday. That means that the letters must be mailed by today and probably by overnight mail.
The Watchdog apologizes for this late notice. Guess I've been so busy chasing used-appliance salesmen and AT&T's foibles that I neglected to check on the deadline. But there's still time.
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Smart meters let Oncor monitor electricity usage using radio frequencies, which eliminates the need for meter readers. Oncor customers pay more than $2 a month for the meters, and these payments will last 11 years. By the end of this year, everyone in North Texas serviced by Oncor will have a new smart meter.
State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, sponsored the original 2005 legislation that allowed for smart meter installations.
Now he says he didn't realize that customers would be required to accept them. He told the PUC in a letter that if the commission does not create a rule making the meters optional, he will sponsor legislation next year to do it.
The actual published request for comments seems directed toward electricity service providers, with detailed questions to address about how an opt-out program would work. But that hasn't stopped consumers from weighing in with passions and pleas.
Here's a sampling of comments published on the PUC's website:
"I told [the installer] I did not want one and politely requested that he not install the meter. He told me, 'It really doesn't matter. We'll just come back when you are not home and install it anyway.' What has become of my freedom of choice?" -- Laura Mikulecky of Bullard
"I wish to opt out of the smart meter program based on the fact that it is a government mandate. I am being charged for something, and I have not been given an option to choose whether I want it or not." -- Brent Hunter of Harlingen
"Smart meters are, by definition, surveillance devices which violate federal and state wiretapping laws by recording and storing databases of private and personal activities and behaviors without the consent or knowledge of those people who are monitored." -- Carlos and Jessica Garcia of Richmond
A smart meter "emits dangerous electromagnetic waves that cause personal injury." -- David Bond of League City
"Smart meters will lead to higher electricity rates through the implementation of 'dynamic pricing,' or higher billing during peak usage hours." -- Elizabeth Maloy of San Antonio
"I do not want to opt out. I want them totally gone. They are not safe for me or my family. Please stop the smart meters." -- Barbara Barrett of Conroe
"We have not had a choice in this matter and feel the public should have been allowed to choose. Just another thing jammed down our throats!!!" Ray and Patricia Tipton of Texas City
"Electric customers should not be allowed to decline installation of high-tech digital electric meters." -- John Odis Cobb of Houston
"My palm tree and many of my other plants have died within close proximity to my electric smart meter." -- Justin Padgett of San Marcos
"I have a heart pacemaker and the manufacturer of this device says it can be damaged by continuous radio frequency emissions. The device could fail and therefore I could lose my life." -- Bill Wortman of Justin
Aside from the power industry's apparent inability to sell the value of smart meters to everyone, the new technology also gives rise to an assortment of mostly unproven fears.
An Oncor spokeswoman said Oncor will follow whatever state rules or law requires.
PUC spokesman Terry Hadley said: "No decision has been made. We'll review the comments to see whether some type of rule or opt-out provision is worthy or not."
Sunday: A pilot program allows owners of properties valued at more than $1 million a tax protest hearing that few know about.
Dave Lieber, 817-390-7043