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In Texas, backlash to smart meters

Posting in Energy

It's been seven years now that smart meters were given the go-ahead by legislators in the U.S. state of Texas, but residents are still concerned that the connected devices have little to offer them. So they're trying to opt out of a mandated program to install them across the state.

In the Texas Tribune, Kate Galbraith details how not to deploy smart meters -- that is, install them against residents' wishes, fail to adequately explain what benefit they serve to the homeowner and, in some areas, actually charge more for their use. As if that's not enough, some Texans are also afraid that the radio frequency signals used by the meters will trigger adverse health effects.

She reports:

The energy-saving changes envisioned with “smart grid” technology, such as prices that are lower in the early morning and higher in the afternoon to encourage Texans to reduce strains on the grid, mostly have not happened. [...]

But persuading people to use less power -- a key goal of smart meters and broader smart grid projects -- goes against long-established power-use incentives, said Karl Rábago, a former Austin Energy official who now runs his own consulting firm. Power companies, he said, make money by selling electricity. So the more they sell, potentially the more money they make.

It is also tough to change consumers’ behavior, Rábago said, “after a century of telling them not to think about their own electricity.”

Many utilities and municipalities held back on deploying smart meters to avoid being early adopters. The idea: let others make mistakes, learn from them and do it right the first time. Yet seven years (and 5.7 million devices) in, there remain considerable hurdles to implement a technology that's fundamental to a more resilient, intelligent electricity grid. Are utility companies overselling a technology that foremost helps only themselves? It appears so.

Photo: Power lines and pylons in southeastern Texas. (Theodore Scott/Flickr)

— By on November 28, 2012, 1:11 AM PST

Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure