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TX: Lawmakers push for customer opt-out from smart meters

By   /   December 6, 2012  /   News  /   No Comments

By Mark Lisheron | Texas Watchdog

SMART METERS: Texas customers should have the option to refuse installation of a smart meter at their home, some lawmakers say.

AUSTIN — After seven years and hundreds of millions of dollars in utility rate increases, Texas legislators are coming to the conclusion that maybe smart meters aren’t for everyone.

Please remind us again how the word “smart” ever got attached to this program?

The Public Utility Commission has indicated it might consider allowing some of the 6.2 million customers who were not given the same courtesy when utilities installed the meters of superior intelligence to say no thanks, the Houston Chronicle’s website Fuel Fix reports.

And if the commission fails to act, state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, and state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, have vowed to file bills to force the commission to think again.

This is the same Bonnen, you may recall, who convinced the Legislature in 2005 to force the commission to come up with a statewide plan to put a smart meter rather than a chicken in every pot in Texas.

Smart meters would provide digital readings giving ratepayers control over their own energy use, day and night, according to AEP Texas. Customers would save money on their utility bills, and the reliability of the meters would greatly reduce service fees. Meter readers would be a thing of the past, AEP says.

Never believing in grizillion years that anyone might object, utilities began implementing the Public Utility Commission plan as rapidly as possible, according to the Legislature’s Public Utility Regulatory Act .

CenterPoint Energy in Houston installed 2.2 million smart meters and added $3.24 a month to the bills of the grateful customers who received them.

The monthly fee was reduced by 19 cents when the U.S. Department of Energy chipped in $200 million in taxpayer money to CenterPoint’s smart meter program.

The grant was part of a $3.5 billion national smart meter giveaway that was part of the $862 billion funding fest known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

While the Utility Regulatory Act doesn’t specifically instruct utilities to ram the legislation down the throats of customers, CenterPoint, like the other major players, contended that they needed “100 percent deployment in order for the smart meter to be effective,” spokeswoman Alicia Dixon told Fuel Fix.

The program was most effective in galvanizing a disparate group of Texans who shared a common hatred for smart meters. More than 650 groups and individuals have filed complaints with the Public Utility Commission.

According to the nonprofit StopSmartMeters.org, customers across the country found the new meters were smart enough to produce higher monthly utility bills with no explanation why.

Customers dislike the government installing an information gathering device without consent in their home, the site says.

Smart meters, the site contends, are health, environmental and safety hazards.

“Thousands of people have complained of tinnitus, headaches, nausea, sleeplessness, heart arrhythmia, and other symptoms after a ‘smart’ meter was installed.

“There is also emerging evidence that wireless, non-ionizing radiation harms wildlife and damages trees. There have been direct reports of how smart meters affect vital bee populations.

“A number of electrical fires have been caused by ‘smart’ meters.”

Bonnen, in a kind-of “just kidding” moment, told Fuel Fix his legislation was supposed to have been a welcoming law, inviting customers to experience the wonders of smart meters. “Never was it presented as something that would be forcibly deployed,” he says.

It is now up to the Public Utility Commission to decide whether it will follow regulatory Bonnen or champion of the people Bonnen. Something has got be done about the malcontents. “But that shouldn’t be an excuse to let the PUC off the hook,” Bonnen told Fuel Fix.

The only people entitled to be more confused than the commissioners are the millions of Texans paying for the right to be part of Smart Meter Nation.

Contact Mark Lisheron at [email protected] or 512-299-2318 or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Mark Lisheron was a former Austin-based reporter for Watchdog.org.