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CPUC Approves Smart Meter Opt-out

A hat tip to the OC Watchdog today on their reporting on the approval of SCE’s smart meter opt-out option. We have blogged several times about the Stop OC Smart Meters folks and their efforts to stop the installation of the SmartGrid technology SCE has begun using in Southern California. We were happy to receive our Smart Meter several weeks ago and have been analyzing our own electrical usage with the web tools provided. However, not everyone has been enamored with the idea of having what is, essentially, a cellphone blasting through their homes with RF radio waves. There have also been privacy concerns raised as well as other issues as to just how SCE plans to control the electrical usage in your house in the future with other so-called smart appliances hooked up to the grid.

From the Watchdog:

The California Public Utilities Commission today approved a smart meter opt-out option for customers of Southern California Edison who want to switch back or keep their current meters.

Smart meters are part of the new Edison SmartConnect grid. They connect to “a secure wireless network” that SCE says gives customers greater control to manage their usage – even from a cellphone, many miles from home. Smart meters are also read remotely, so employees don’t have to trek to the house to read the meter.  By the end of this year, 5 million smart meters are slated to be installed in Southern California.

A little over a month ago we talked about the controversies surrounding the new system and smart meters which led to customers asking for the opt-out option.  Some consumers are worried about radio frequency radiation from the new meters, some have challenged their accuracy and others say the meters are an invasion of privacy.  The PUC has received hundreds of complaints about the new meters.

Edison has downplayed those concerns, citing studies showing that the meters are safe and accurate.

But since our first post more Orange County residents have contacted us expressing similar concerns.

Ken Devore, director of Edison SmartConnect, said SCE has been willingly participating for months in CPUC’s proceedings. “We absolutely support customers having a choice,” Devore said.

Customers who chose the opt-out option will have to pay an initial fee of $75 and then a monthly fee of $10. Devore said that currently only 28,000 customers have indicated an interest in the opt-out option. In the March 30 proposal that we mentioned in our last piece, though, SCE estimated 61,000 would take the opt-out.

You can read the details at http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/EFILE/PD/161688.pdf.

Some customers and groups such as Stop OC Smart Meters who want to opt-out feel that they shouldn’t have to pay to keep their old meters.

“The fact of the matter is the previous form of meters are not the standard anymore,” Devore said. “The new standard is smart meters. The old meters require labor that smart meters don’t.”

That extra labor, maintenance, and additional costs incurred to regulate the old meters is SCE’s reasoning for charging customers. Devore and SCE believe it is only fair. The costs are subject to change and during phase two of SCE’s proceedings with the CPUC new rates may be applied to residents opting out.

So, now it appears you will have a choice. But, that choice will come at a price should you decide to keep your old meter. The only customers who are eligible, by the way, are those who placed themselves on the delay list or currently do not have a Smart Meter installed. For the rest of us, we can go to the website and review quite a bit of fascinating information about our electrical usage.

What do you think of SCE’s new opt-out plan? Do you think the fee is reasonable?

Get Smart

I was at the Orange County Fair this year (where my homebrew IPA won 2nd place) and came across the display for Southern California Edison. They were touting their new Smart Grid and Smart Meters that they will eventually install in every residence and business in their service area. Of course, this includes Our Town Tustin. I had heard about the new meters and I was anxious to talk to one of the SCE representatives about them. He gladly explained the technology and how the meters would be able to be read remotely. More importantly, he said, I would be able to have real-time access to my electricity usage via the internet that would allow me to make real savings by shifting my own electrical loads to less demanding times of the day. Being a tech and gadget guy, that intrigued me. Unfortunately, he did not have an example of how that would work. Being a union man, I did ask how this would affect the traditional meter readers and would we see layoffs in that field. He reassured me that there would be no layoffs and that most of those folks would find jobs elsewhere with Edison.

I forgot to ask the representative one key question: Will SCE be able to turn my meter on and off without my consent or coming out to my house. So, I started doing some research and found that yes, indeed, they can. One of their on-line brochures at SCE.com discusses how, when a family moves into a new home, they can call the company and their electricity will be turned on remotely. Gosh, isn’t that neat? Now I am beginning to wonder if our friends who attended the most recent Planning Commission and City Council meetings were on to something. Are the new Smart Meters good business or are they really designed, as the Stop OC SmartMeters folks purport, to control our lives, spy on us and dig deeper into our pocketbooks?

In several recent comments on this forum, John Oetkin, commented that, “The people of Tustin need to be informed about smart meters and their dangerous effects. They are not smart, not green, not safe, and not legal.” He further stated to go to Stop Smartmeters website for further information. So I did stop by there and the  more local Stop OC Smartmeters as well. What I found on both sites concerned me. Not for what I read, but how the StopSmartMeter folks could possibly piece their own brand of misinformation together.

The three biggest issues the StopSmartMeter folks have seem to be with RF energy that the units transmit, the false claims of savings by the electric companies and the fact that they can “spy” on you. They claim that the RF energy is going to swamp our neighborhoods with RF and that everyone knows that is bad for the children and old folks.  They equate the amount of RF as that of cell phones however. And, I hate to tell these folks but, there is so much RF energy already in the air caused by cellphones, GPS, satellites, microwaves and radios that a little more coming from an electrical meter will not matter much. The truth is, they should be more worried about the microwave in their kitchen and the electromagnetic radiation that comes from high powered electric lines in their neighborhood. The RF energy emanating from the meter on the side of their house will not add much to the RF in the air already. Although I question the efficiency of using radios transceivers to transmit information and instructions (they could do this over the electric lines themselves), I don’t think I am going to worry about a little more RF leaking into an already saturated environment.

As far as savings go, I see electrical rates doing nothing but going up. The cost of producing electricity, like everything else nowadays, is getting more expensive. That cost will be passed on to the customer, like it or not. The Smartmeters, according to SCE, will allow residents to check their usage and, in time, receive real-time messaging about cutting back on power demands during peak loads to obtain extra savings. From the SCE website:

advanced meters will provide customers with new information and control over their energy use, putting additional downward pressure on costs.

Other potential savings include reduced labor costs due to remote meter reads, turn-ons, reduced infrastructure replacement costs as some peak usage is shifted to off-peak periods reducing stress on the power delivery system, and reduced need to purchase expensive wholesale power to address rapidly rising peak demand.

So, right from their website, one can tell quite a bit about SCE’s push for this new technology. This doesn’t seem to be rocket science. In fact, SCE touts the smartmeters as part of the Smart Grid system that the entire nation has gone to. It is a high tech answer to moving energy from location to location on the nation’s electrical grid automatically, according to load demands. What that means is, when the demand for energy is high in California but low in, say, Nebraska, the system will automatically adjust the load to send more electricity to California. Make sense? Apparently not to the StopSmartMeters folks. They say that claims to energy saving are false. Unfortunately, about the only whitepapers they could find to back their claim are from Reuters – Africa and a 2 year old website article that claims overcharging but, again, does not show any real proof. In fact, if I read these right, the reason most people don’t realize long term savings is because they get tired of playing the load-shifting game and go back to old habits of energy usage. I’m a cheapskate when it comes to utility costs, however, and I see this new access to my own energy usage as very beneficial. I would play that game to the max (no, honey, we can’t run the A/C until after 7pm….. you don’t mind getting up at 3 am to do the laundry, do you…).

So, the only other issue I see is the allegations of spying on their customers by the power companies and their selling of your data to other companies, like insurance companies. We can dispense with the latter as the legislature already already seen fit to prohibit the selling of customer data.

What about the spying part? While one source says the SmartMeters only collect raw energy usage and send it to the utility, the SCE website actually says quite a bit about how, in the near future, the meters will be able to communicate with “smart” appliances and thermostats and, with the customer’s permission, be able to “adjust” power levels according to load. Does that mean SCE can invade your privacy? It’s starting to sound like it. In fact, this isn’t sounding quite so benign after all.

The SmartMeters will be able to talk to a host of coming appliances and thermostats that the meters can interface with. They are supposed to help manage peak loads and assist the customer in cutting down on non-essential usage of appliances. If that is the case, then how can the SmartMeters only measure raw power? Wouldn’t the electric company have to know that you have your A/C set to 72 instead of the company mandated 78? How about when you are doing your laundry or watching TV? If the meters are that smart, they certainly are smart enough to send that information back to the company who could then use that information to automatically cut your power or shut off certain appliances. Does this start to sound more like 1984?

So, how willing are you to let a utility invade your privacy and run your life? This is not the only utility that does this, by the way. If you have a landline telephone, they can shut your phone service on and off automatically. They can, with a warrant from a secret court, record who you make phone calls to, the length of those calls and even record the phone calls themselves right from the comfort of their own office. Gone are the days of the phony lineman climbing the pole a block away from your house to run a tap. So, what keeps the electric company from invading your privacy?

The same thing that keeps the phone company from routinely tapping your phone – vigilance by customers and watchdog groups. Legislation that we must all keep up on to make sure our lawmakers are not selling us out. Even the StopOCSmartMeters.com folks who may  really be into conspiracy theories but, who have an interest in keeping their lives private and separate from an increasingly intrusive government.

As for me, I will allow the installation of the SmartMeter on my house. As I said, I am a gadget guy and this one really intrigues me. So, I am willing to be your guinea pig. But, if the electric company ever turns off my TV while I am watching Sons of Anarchy, I’ll be sure to report it to you.

Power to the People…

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