I’ll admit that I’m skeptical when the government comes out with a new thing “for my benefit.” Usually ends up being good for them and BAD for me! But I tried to keep an open mind when I heard about smart meters being installed in homes across the country.
These electrical meters record how much electrical energy is being used and communicate that information back to the power company for monitoring and billing purposes. They measure usage in real time (or close to it), they notify the company of a power outage and they communicate the quality of the power being consumed.
Sounds OK, right? Every business has to upgrade its equipment now and then, and why not take advantage of new technology that has emerged since the last version of a product? But as it turns out, I should have trusted my original gut feeling. Apparently there are many people who are concerned about smart meters for a variety of reasons, including cost, health risk, security and privacy.
Two of those people are homeowners in Naperville, Ill., who were arrested recently for refusing to allow the city to install smart meters on their property. The women are members of the Naperville Smart Meter Awareness group, and they have a federal lawsuit pending against the city. This group is one of many that have formed to try to fight against the mandatory installation of smart meters.
In Maine, the Public Utility Commission voted to allow customers to opt out of smart meters after officials received numerous complaints about the potential of health concerns, hacking and privacy issues with the wireless digital devices. A Hawaii utility recently changed its smart meter program to an “opt in” version after their customers voiced similar concerns and filed a lawsuit.
Connecticut’s largest utility, Connecticut Light & Power, recently wanted to install 1.2 million smart meters, but its request was denied by regulators who argued that the potential electric bill savings would not justify the cost. George Jepsen, the state’s attorney general, was quoted as saying the proposal would force customers to spend upwards of $500 million on meters and receive few benefits in return.
So let’s get back to the concerns about these smart meters. Energy companies like to promote smart meters as a cost-saving alternative to traditional meter reading methods. They may be right – although that really hasn’t been clearly demonstrated yet – but even if they are, the power monopolies are the ones who will realize the cost savings. We’ll probably never see any of those savings passed along to us.
Consumers Digest documented concerns with smart meters in 2011. Among those concerns are that pricing by the utility might become scheduled and become a disadvantage to consumers who are not able to adapt their use and equipment to meet new policies. A requirement to buy equipment and appliances designed to interface with smart meters might be a financial burden to users, especially those who are least able to afford that new equipment.
The magazine also suggests that smart meters may never lower electricity use and that customers will never see the energy and cost savings compared to the investments they’ll be required to shoulder. Hardware and software upgrades will be required at the expense of customers. Additionally, it’s possible that consumers will have to spend thousands of dollars to replace appliances and equipment with new appliances being designed now to interface with the meters.
The majority of health issues that have been raised regarding smart meters concern the pulsed radio frequency radiation that wireless smart meters emit. Privacy advocates are focusing on how the meters collect personal data about users and their energy habits, not to mention the potential of that data being shared without the knowledge or permission of consumers.
Most security concerns focus on the relative ease with which wireless technology can be hacked, as well as the remote control “kill switch” that has been incorporated into smart meters. Agencies have been accused of sweeping smart meter plans under the carpet to avoid public input and obtain approval by using the term “smart grid.”
Taking all this into account, smart meters might just be a very dumb idea after all.