At Texas PUC Hearing, A Push For Smart Meter Opt-Out Plan

Editor’s Note: EarthTechling is proud to repost this article courtesy of the Texas Tribune. Author credit goes to John 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.

Smart Meters

image via Shutterstock

“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.

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