San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

by JOHN WAYNE FERGUSON

In front of a crowd of more than 200 people, the Public Utility Commission on Tuesday heard repeated calls to create an opt-out program for people who do not want smart electric meters installed at their homes.

Included in those calling for such a program was a member of the Legislature.

“To some degree, as a member of the Legislature, I feel I owe you members of the PUC an apology for making this your problem, rather than a problem for the Legislature,” said state Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview. “In hindsight, the Legislature should have specified a specific opt-out or even possibly an opt-in provision.”

Following the meeting, Simpson said that if the commission and the utility providers did not come to an agreement on an opt-out program, he would work to introduce legislation to create one.

The PUC was noncommittal about any immediate changes. Chairwoman Donna Nelson said the topic of smart electric meters would be discussed again at a future open meeting.

Tuesday’s hearing came long after the state’s utility companies began installing the meters, a process that started in 2007. The PUC has said that as of Aug. 1, 5.8 million smart meters have been installed — completing 90 percent of the work that is expected to be done in the state. Utility companies began installing the meters after being encouraged by the Legislature to do so — and after being given the ability to charge a fee to pay for the cost of a meter.

Proponents say that smart electric meters can help track usage and control costs. Opponents of smart meters say that the law did not mean all ratepayers had to submit to accepting a smart electric meter at their homes.

“The law did not create a mandate for smart meter installation, and providers are acting beyond the purview of the law by forcing smart meters on customers,” said Janise Cookston of the property rights group We Texans. “It shouldn’t matter why [ratepayers] do or do not want the installation, they should have the power to choose.”

Supporters of the technology say that being able to get detailed information about power usage — the smart meters break usage down into 15-minute increments — can help consumers be more efficient.

“What this will be able to do is enable people to control when those loads are used in very sophisticated ways,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith of Public Citizen. “We can’t build enough plants fast enough. But we can use our energy significantly smarter.”

Some other states, including California, Maine, Nevada and Oregon, allow customers to opt out of having smart meters installed, but with an additional fee to cover the cost of having a meter reader check usage. In May, Vermont passed a law preventing power companies from charging additional fees for customers who wished to opt out.

The commission also heard testimony Tuesday from people saying that their health has been affected by the radio wave emissions from the meters or that their personal information is vulnerable to hacking — though evidence behind such claims is disputed. The commission heard from experts supporting the relative safety of the devices, and others warning of their potential harm.

Smart meters transmit data using radio frequencies similar to the technology in cellphones. Proponents of the meters say the radiation is minimal. The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates transmission frequencies, has ruled that smart meters are safe.

In regard to the safety of information, the U.S. Department of Energy said in a report issued in January that many companies deploying smart meters had not done enough to protect the systems from hackers who might be after customers’ personal information.

One of the experts invited to testify however, said that the information that is transmitted by the meters is hardly useful to anyone except power companies.

“They’re too crude. They don’t give me enough information,” Dr. Robert Hebner, the director of the Center for Electromechanics at the University of Texas at Austin, said of the meters’ ability to provide specific data about how people are using their electricity. “It’s possible that somebody smarter than me could join the information, but I don’t use smart meters to get the information about how things are running.”

In remarks opening the meeting, the Christine Wright, the PUC’s senior market analyst, responded to some of the more conspiratorial theories about the push behind smart meters.

“There were questions about how transparent our process was. There was also some concern that this seemed to happen overnight. And what we want to share with you is that it did not,” Wright said. “It all began with the legislation that passed in 2005. We weren’t under any federal directives and we didn’t look at the U.N. or anything like that.”


JOHN WAYNE FERGUSON reports for The Texas Tribune where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Tribune and the San Marcos Mercury.

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11 thoughts on “At PUC hearing, a push for smart meter opt-out plan

  1. Oh yes, the smart meters are used by the aliens (which the “present” administration is in contact with) to control us, not to mention they are equipped with special EMF waves that read my thoughts and then project them out to my neighbors (that’s why they give me funny looks all the time) and people on wifi drive-bys know that I am doing my laundry at 9pm and keep my thermostat set at 69 degrees at 2pm. Plus, I would rather the electrical grid crash and have brown-outs all summer long than have a more efficient grid. I would rather have my liberty and freedom than participate in cost-saving, ecologically-minded socialistic systems. (RME)

  2. Are any readers of this article old enough to remember the promise circa the 1950s of electricity becoming too cheap to meter?

  3. If people are worried about the effects of radio waves, they should wear aluminum around their skulls. But seriously, what’s creepier: RF signals being sent to the power company receiver or a stranger walking around your yard once a month? Ehh?

  4. This “opt-out” brought to you by the same people who think hand-scanner ID is the mark of the beast. At some point, we have to stop defending luddites and move into the new century.

  5. There are many very real ways that our government intrudes on our lives on a regular basis.

    However, using electronic utility meter reading methods is NOT one of them. At least not one worth picking a fight over.

    If the government would try to come install a calorie counter on my fridge, I’d be up in arms. As for this? Man, they’re just trying to install a more efficient system to save taxpayer dollars. Isn’t that what we *want* government to be doing????

  6. There are health effects associated with dirty electricity. Some people can feel the electric pulses and they are painful. Regardless of how you feel about government intrusion, if you support smoking bans (due to health effects argument), then consider this argument as well. Native Americans are especially sensitive to the deleterious effects of dirty electricity. So are those that are especially healthy, such as vegetarians.

  7. The main difference is that the dangers of smoking are well documented and widely agreed upon by all reputable members of both the scientific and medical communities….while the dangers of “dirty electricity” are primarily based on the works of a sole scientist and are widely questioned within the scientific community as “junk science”.

  8. Lets not forget this is not just an intellectual debate!! The people who are physically sensitive to the smart meters actually feel pain in response!

    Too many of the respondents here seem to be the types who might laugh at others pain just because they don’t experience it.

    There is no way the stated consumer benefits of the new meter come anywhere close to paying for the pain of many people. That’s why all the objection.

  9. As usual Lisa Marie is right, this time about dirty electricity and smart meters. Want to save ratepayer money? Use the old analog electric meters and have the home/business owner read its own electric meter and send the reading in with the previous months bill. I did that while living in a rural area of this county a couple of decades ago. A meter reader came around at six month or yearly intervals to kind of audit my readings. The dirty electricity smart meters are more for cutting off your electricity from time to time to prevent brown- or black-outs caused by heavy loads on the system. Soooo, jumbopop, take your aluminum, heavy-duty at that, and wrap it around your smart meter! You might live longer.

  10. Never heard the term ‘ dirty electricity’ that previous posters refer to. I do , however , recall having to go read the meter at our well on our ranch (PEC) and thinking that there had to be a better way to determine the amount of electricity we used than the property owner having to provide a meter reading every month. Our usage was minimal but we still had to provide a reading every month to PEC. It’s called progress people!Smart Meter’s, hell yes!

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