Skeptics say new meters not so smart

For a few homeowners, having a smart meter doesn’t seem like a bright idea.

They’re worried about privacy, health risks and their lack of choice in the matter.

In response to their complaints, the Public Utility Commission of Texas last month began evaluating whether to let electric customers opt out of the devices that power companies say improve efficiency for the companies and their customers.

More than 100 homeowners across the state signed a petition asking the PUC to put a moratorium on the installation of smart meters while it considers the opt-out idea.

The PUC has no credible evidence of significant health or safety issues but decided to explore opt-outs after receiving comments that included concerns about privacy related to the data the meters collect, accuracy and other matters, spokesman Terry Hadley said.

“We are willing to accept and receive any information folks may have regarding any comments, but at this point we believe the meters are safe and secure and accurate,” he said.

Hadley said other states, cities and companies have or are 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.

In the Houston area, CenterPoint Energy is on schedule to complete installation of more than 2 million smart meters by May. Area electric customers have been covering part of the costs for the upgrade through a fee of about $3 on their monthly bills since 2009.

The 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.

Joy Demark said the smart meter helped her realize just how much power her appliances use. She says she’s saved about $20 a month on her power bill by changing her habits – for example, by running her dishwasher only a few times a week when it’s stuffed.

“My family laughs about it, but it’s like a game to me,” Demark said. She thinks the smart meter enhances her privacy because it’s read remotely rather than in person by a meter reader.

Other electric customers, however, fear loss of privacy and possible health effects. They cite testimony before California’s PUC that the meters emit radio waves and electromagnetic field radiation that could be harmful.

‘We don’t have a choice’

A Houston couple, Thelma and Nick Taormina, helped gather signatures for the petition.

Thelma Taormina worries hackers might obtain her power usage information and that power companies could turn appliances linked to smart meters on and off without her permission.

“We don’t have a choice not to take something we don’t want,” she said. “We also don’t have the right to not buy power from them because CenterPoint has a monopoly on the area. That’s just not America.”

CenterPoint owns and operates the power distribution grid in the Houston area regardless of which retail provider sells customers their electricity.

The Taorminas have thwarted the installation so far – once when Thelma Taormina pulled a pistol after she and a meter installer tussled in August over her refusal to let him switch out her old meter.

CenterPoint spokesman Floyd LeBlanc wouldn’t comment on the incident but said such resistance is rare and that employees and contractors are trained to disengage and call law enforcement if conversations about smart meters become heated.

The Taormina incident did not result in any legal action.

Thelma Taormina acknowledges her views may seem far-fetched.

“But Nick and I see it as a threat to our personal liberties,” she said.

Consumer advocate Carol Biedrzycki, who heads the Texas Ratepayers’ Organization to Save Energy and helped the state of Maine form its opt-out provision, agrees that without rules there is potential for abuse.

“There are people who have a fear of flying, and we don’t make them get on airplanes. There are people who don’t think meat is good for their health; we don’t make them eat it,” she said.

Addressing concerns

CenterPoint’s installation plan, approved by regulators, doesn’t include an opt-out provision.

The company contacts customers who decline and tries to address their concerns, said spokeswoman Leticia Lowe. Of the nearly 2.1 million smart meters installed to date, no more than 100 customers have refused it initially. Only 30 continued to refuse after conversations with CenterPoint officials, Lowe said, and the company is still working to convince those holdouts.

Having a mix of digital smart meters and the older, analog meters could create a chaotic and costly system to operate, Lowe added.

“If some consumers had analog meters that were unable to communicate wirelessly, they would require special services at additional cost, reducing the systemwide efficiencies and increasing operational costs to consumers,” she said.

purva.patel@chron.com twitter.com/purvap

44 Comments

  1. richard

    “We also don’t have the right to not buy power from them because CenterPoint has a monopoly on the area. That’s just not America.”

    Monopolies are quintessentially American. Monopolies built the railroads to the West, the canals and bridges in the East, Standard Oil created the oil industy, America’s merchant fleet had a monopoly on trade after the British fleet was wiped out in WWI, American industy had free reign when European and Japanese manufacturing was destroyed in WWII, white males had a virtual monopoly of employment until the 70′s. Figuring out ways to exclude competition and then jacking up the prices is the American way. Also, Texans voted for the politicians who allow the power companies to do whatever they want. You got what you wanted, stop whining.

    #1
  2. AvailableUserName

    “Skeptics say new meters not so smart”

    Well, apparently they’re smarter than Centerpoint’s human readers who misread my meter last month and got me billed for an extra 100 CCF.

    #2
  3. strengthof10

    richard, I did vote for a different governor but was outvoted by you masochists who like to be worked over by Perry and his cronies. (

    #3
  4. adro

    The biggest problem I have with the new meters is that we’re told over and over that they will save money. Yet we get charged an extra fee for them. I don’t want to pay to make Centerpoint’s job easier. Either let them pay for the new meters or let people keep the old ones and not have to pay extra.

    If I have to pay for a smart meter that I don’t want, I want Centerpoint to pay me for the cost to install an automatic garage door in my garage so I don’t have to manually open it. That only seems fair.

    #4
  5. CaptSternn

    Technology advances, companies upgrade equipment all the time. People could always get a generator that runs on natural gas or diesel. Of course if it runs on natural gas there will still be a meter, and there is a meter at the gas station on the diesel pump too. Or people could live without electricity the way the human race did for thousands of years.

    #5
  6. MrColdWaterOfRealtyMan

    The meters are more accurate and more immediate. The bottom line is that some customers will pay more. The objections aren’t too surprising.

    #6
  7. strengthof10

    In addition to smart meters, another great deal PUC, ERCOT and the electric companies gave Texans was “deregulation”. I just don’t understand why electricity in Texas, a “deregulated” state, costs 20-30% more than LA. ARK, OK and NM. What happened to the competition deregulation was supposed to produce?

    #7
  8. I’m rather confident that monopolistic utilities are exactly America.

    #8
  9. Hello-Clarice

    The Taorminas have thwarted the installation so far – once when Thelma Taormina pulled a pistol after she and a meter installer tussled in August over her refusal to let him switch out her old meter.
    ~~~
    She is probably one of the freaks that pulled a gun on some of the census workers here.

    #9
  10. Cocohouston

    Help. Smart meters are making my son sick. He is extremely sensitive to EMFs and has been suffering with SEVERE migraine headaches since the meters were installed in our home and at his school over the Christmas Break. CenterPoint refused my request to remove the meters from our home. In the meantime, I am spending $650 every month for medication to treat his symptoms caused by the radiation which these meters emit. Although I am sure that they will never be able to formally link Smart Meters to health concerns (they still deny that cigarettes cause cancer), I should have the right to have these meters removed from my property.

    #10
  11. shockwave

    Let the people wanting to keep their old meters keep them – and charge them an extra 10$ a month for manually reading their meters the old way too. Simple and effective. If the power companies have to hire people specially to treat you special, you can pay for the extra costs yourself.

    As for the radio waves bit, I would take such complaints more seriously if people weren’t calling the PUC on their cell phones to make the complaint. Hey lady! That cell phone doesn’t use fairy dust to make a phone call — it uses radio waves!

    #11
  12. Cajun59

    My complaint is this: the “smart” meter allows Centerpoint the ability to “read” my meter WITHOUT paying an employee to DRIVE OUT and do it manually. The SAVINGS alone from that should PAY for the “smart” meters! Then WHY am I being asked to pay an ADDITIONAL FEE of $4 per month so Centerpoint CAN SAVE ON GASOLINE, VEHICLES AND LABOR???? I’m calling B.S.!!

    #12
  13. shockwave

    Other things that aren’t American: Having to be in a certain religion to hold elected office, having right of ways that bar competing phone or cable or internet services from existing, having illegal aliens driving around with no insurance or licenses, district attorneys investigating grand juries, crime labs that rubberstamp whatever the DA wants them to say, etc. etc.

    All you people worrying about loss of freedom — I’m afraid that happened years and years ago.

    #13
  14. Wes

    “Hadley said other states, cities and companies have or are 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.”

    Something doesn’t add up. They will be charged a fee to have someone come read their meter but haven’t the meters been read manually for years so that cost is already including in the bill and if eliminating the work force that manually reads the meters should cause a decrease in your bill however they are adding a $3.00/monthly fee for the new meters. What am I missing?

    #14
  15. bob

    Who are these freaks? I’d much rather worry about black helicopters than smart meters.

    #15
  16. Txsfred

    Mrs Taomina probably had another of the smart aleck Power employees who will stand in your yard and tell you, while smiling broadly, that you do not have any choice but to give in.

    I had one of them tell me, while smiling broadly, that if they had to get into my back yard to their easement,they would just tear down my fence or climb it with their Lineman’s spikes. I wiped his big smile off quickly with my remark that if the day comes that is needed, I would understand, BUT that he, or anybody else who does it BETTER have the respect NOT TO BE smiling while he did it – or he might not have all of his big smile with him when he went home.

    He probably tells this as the day he talked to the smart-alleck home owner who threatened to punch him in his smiling mouth. Both of us would be telling the truth about the same situation. :-})

    #16
  17. Cynthia

    At least a smart meter doesn’t have to figure out how to open a gate or remember to close one! Our wood gate has a KNOB so that we can lock it when we go out of town and we constantly had our bill estimated because the meter readers were just confounded. I have no idea how they got out of their houses in the morning.

    #17
  18. jackie

    I LOVE THE NEW METERS…my bill has been without human error for a while it was higher when the guys were hopping the fence andestimating and taking WILD guesses…mine has been low…computers record what you actually use…unlike some of the lazy readers…my bill is totally different…and i love it…

    #18
  19. bkbirge

    Time to get off the grid. Is that even possible here? Smart meters don’t sound bad, just don’t charge more for it and then tell me I’m saving money.

    #19
  20. chiefdecoy

    If I can’t see the savings, or I have to pay for them, then forget it.
    Not to mention, will this affect jobs?

    #20
  21. Jack sheet

    To those who are worried about radiation, the solution is very simple – aluminum foil. Use it everywhere in your house (walls, ceilings etc.) to shield yourself from harmful rays.

    #21
  22. Probably similar to the old compact flourescent light bulb deal. When they first came out they lasted for years. Now they are made in China and cost quite a bit. The Chinese bulbs dont last for more than a year.

    #22
  23. CollineLeon

    I actually prefer the “smart” meters since it means that anyone that I catch in my backyard is guaranteed to be a trespasser and as such, I can shoot them. I’m just waiting on one of the HOA Nazis to make the mistake of stepping foot on my property instead of just peeking over the back fence that abuts a “greenspace”.

    #23
  24. Royal_Rabbit

    .
    Just wait until they start:
    1) Billing more per KWH during peak hours
    2) Billing an additional amount for some arbitrary ‘peak demand’ threshold
    .
    We’ll all be hosed.
    .

    #24
  25. Todd J.

    stupid meter jacks up my light bills

    #25
  26. SUX_2BU

    The real questions are how much of the cost of your bill was to pay the meter reader, and when will that charge be removed from your bill when you get a “smart” meter? I’m guessing that charge never goes away.

    #26
  27. Electroman_19

    Because now it’s a competition to see who can charge the highest prices and continue to get away with it.

    #27
  28. Cocohouston

    Jack Sheets ———– thanks for your comment. Yes, we have considered aluminum sheeting for his bedroom to help.
    I have asked CenterPoint to come out and check the radiation levels in the house and around the meter. The problem is, the meters are everywhere. School, malls, gyms. It seems my son can not escape the side effects of the meters.
    Center Point did send me their “research” on the health impacts of smart meters (actually it was one done in California by the CCST). It states that, “additional research and monitoring is needed to better identify and understand potential non-thermal effects” on people. Don’t you think they would want to know the effects of the RF emmissions before they installed them in every home and business in the US? Sounds to me like they put the cart before the horse.

    #28
  29. Agaudi

    Smart meters are supposed to be read remotely, but the Center point guy still needs to read the gas meter, so I don’t get the point.

    #29
  30. Cocohouston

    Wes — you are right. It doesn’t add up.

    According to the TCPU, CenterPoint will save $120.6 Million, spend $5.6 Million on consumer education and add a residential surcharge of $3.05.

    It all adds up to a big profit for the energy company.

    #30
  31. Gassed

    Smart gas meters are already in other states and will be coming to Houston soon.

    #31
  32. theMite

    Remember all of your griping and whining when your power outage is automatically reported after a hurricane or other major storm and the grid allows for faster restoration.

    I’m sure you all are the same ones who yelled and complained and threatened utility workers when your power was out for more than an hour after Ike.

    You cannot always get everything for nothing.

    #32
  33. Sarah

    Cocohouston, perhaps those rays are coming from the computer you’re using to get your bogus information and to post your comments on an article you read online. Same technology, same rays.

    #33
  34. Charles G

    Oh, they are “smart” alright — for CenterPoint. With wireless readers in place, why happens to all the jobs of meter readers and other personnel it takes to use a manual system. Technology is great, but when we all scratch or heads and go where have all the jobs gone….give this a thought. Banks now have little to no tellers anymore. ATMs even take your deposits ( ask an iPhone user if they enjoy the ability to deposit a check by phone).

    CenterPoint will save millions with smart meters! Yet, just like banks they charge for the effiencies thet are creating to put a lot more money in their pockets. The people who lose their jobs due to these advances can’t put food on the table for their families.

    Where is responsibility that used to be part of corporate ethos? A line was drawn through it and in pen written next to it greed. Enron, Stanford, etc. GREED….

    #34
  35. MeToo

    My biggest problem with the Smart Meter is that it has not saved me any money – in fact, it costs much more. My natural gas and electricity are both provided by CenterPoint Energy. The company that sells me the electricity charges an extra $3.00 a month for the SmartMeter. I recieved a notice from CenterPoint saying that because they previsouly used the same meter reader for both electric and natural gas,I will now be charged a fee to have my gas meter read since as a natural gas user, the fees charged for the meter reading was previsouly absorbed when I had the old analog style electric meter.

    #35
  36. pdh42

    If it is such a huge savings from being able to get rid of ALL of the meter readers, then why are they charging us more every month for these meters???? If their labor bill is going to nothing why the surcharge???? Sounds to me like a HUGE scam….

    #36
  37. JohnD

    CenterPoint is using the smart meters as an excuse to take an extra profit. If the meters are going to save them and us so much money, then why should we pay for their installation? Shouldn’t they be paying us to take them?

    #37
  38. DonutM

    I have no problem with the meters per se, just the policy of making customers pay for them when it doesn’t necessarily benefit them. To which I point out: I get no feedback from my R.E.P. other than my monthly bill. Now, if Google Power Meter was still running and I could see what I was burning in real time that’d be different.

    #38
  39. Marilyn

    I receive a weekly piece of propaganda from Reliant exclaiming what my Smart Meter projects my next bill to be. The last projection was “$45.83 with ZERO days left in the billing cycle”. When the actual bill was generated, it was $58.32, a full 27% above the projection.

    I’ve sent two requests for explanation (two weeks ago and again last week) and have not received a reply from Reliant. What’s the point of the projection if they’re so inaccurate?

    #39
  40. Cocohouston

    Sarah —– I don’t know where you are getting your information. The information you are calling bogus was mailed to me by the Centerpoint research department not something I got on line. My computer is hard wired and not wi-fi based (which is also a good option for Centerpoint). It just seems to me that if Centerpoint feels that more studies need to be done on the effects of non-thermal EMF then those studies should be done to prove they are safe BEFORE flooding our neighborhoods with something that many experts believe can have adverse health effects. That is like releasing a drug into the market without testing it for side effects. Very dangerous. I would like to think, if you were in my shoes and watching your son cry and suffer day after day, you would be a little more curious as to the safety of the meters attached to your home.

    #40
  41. CarlGlas

    CenterPoint has a sweet deal going here. They are having customers pay for their equipment. Customers are charged connection fees, service fees, line security fees and a host of other unexplained expenses, fees, and taxes that CenterPoint hopes customers will pay without questioning. It’s just a matter of time before they will be a 100% profit company because their customers will be paying for everything else. In regards to the meter readings, existing customer usage has been established and the PUC permits the company to estimate readings up to 4 times before a actual reading has to be performed. For the $50 fee they want to charge to send someone to actually read the meter, I can read it myself and it will be accurate.

    #41
  42. bubbabobcat

    CoCoHouston, whay are you the only person suffering “health effects” from the meters and is that what your doctor is saying or are you self diagnosing without a license? And how do you know every other environmental factor has been eliminated as a source?

    #42
  43. Jeff S

    Cocohouston – I understand your concerns about RF issues… but bear in mind that your cell phone uses a similar frequency. So does your microwave. And any cordless phone that you have. If you have an iPad… yep, same frequency. And your TV. They all emit RF radiation, either as direct transmissions or leakage from wires/screens. Actually, EVERYTHING electronic has some kind of RF radiation by the very nature of the physics involved.

    Have you taken your son to a neurologist? Have you checked your home for other causes such as allergies or radon gas? Compared to all of the other RF radiation out there, smart meters are a drop in the bucket. It is like trying to say that someone’s cell phone is too loud when you are 30 feet from a speaker at a rock concert.

    #43
  44. Mr. Widemouth

    Smart Meters – something to be afraid of? http://www.squidoo.com/beware-of-smart-meters

    #44