Smart meters and cultural toxicity

Institutional mistrust and the rejection of science

Phil Carson | Feb 12, 2012

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When a cry such as "Crimes against humanity!" echoes in a regulatory chamber over the installation of interval meters, not only do you have an instructive incident for utilities to consider, you have a full-blown anthropological study on your hands.

I refer to the hearing on PG&E's opt-out options at the California Public Utilities Commission on Feb. 1, covered via the Web by my colleague Kate Rowland, resulting in her piece last week, "From Health Claims to Orwellian Accusations ..." That piece was preceded by a string of three columns by yours truly on the same topic, "PG&E Smart Meter Opt-out: Decision By Regulators," "California: Mob Rule On Analog Opt-out Solution?" and "California: A Future With ... Analog Meters."

In an age when the duly elected president of the United States is subjected to claims that he is not a citizen, when contenders for the presidential nomination of the opposing party claim to not "believe" in evolution, when conspiracy theorists suggest that our own military and intelligence organizations were "behind" 9/11, when the Federal Reserve Bank draws the ire of ... whoever those people are, you're on a slippery slope. And it's greased.

Enter interval meters, wireless or otherwise. Let's suppose that a utility has used a heavy hand to attempt to defeat an initiative to allow local choice over electricity and its delivery. Suppose that utility has decided to install millions of those meters in its territory, the same territory containing local governments it has attempted to run roughshod over. Further suppose that in significant pockets of that territory, indoor marijuana growing thrives, for profit and personal use. Suppose times are hard, times are changing, times are bewildering, even scary. Suppose you have a problem on your hands. That's PG&E and its northern California territory, standing before the CPUC. 

It's worth taking a long look at the cultural context for this situation because it reveals just how extreme some elements have become, with potential impacts on grid modernization. Just as we gain the means to modernize the electric grid through science, technology and enlightened, collective action, so we stumble, shriek and point fingers at one another, dividing and conquering ... ourselves. Does that sound like a strong nation with a vision for the future? Does that sound like an industry that can get its job done?

A recent article in The New York Times did an admirable job in painting the context for the power industry's piece of this unraveling tapestry.

The New York Times' headline said a lot: "Activists Fight Green Projects, Seeing U.N. Plot."

Unfortunately, the Times was behind the curve when it identified "activists with ties to the Tea Party" as the ones "railing against all sorts of local and state efforts to control sprawl and conserve energy." Memo to the Times: see smart meters, Marin and Mendocino counties, for the same sentiments spewing from the left, too. One protester in Virginia "identified smart meters, devices being installed by utility companies to collect information on energy use, as part of the conspiracy. 'The real job of smart meters is to spy on you and control you—when you can and cannot use electrical appliances,' she said."

One county planner said that protesters at what used to be  routine county planning meetings "say they want non-polluted air and clean water and everything we promote and support, but they also say it's a communist movement."

"I really don't understand what they want," the planner said.

This article conveniently hit the Web the same day I received an email with the subject line "ICLEI's Murder Meters and Spy Grid Turning Mr. Roger [sic] Neighborhood into Electronic Internment Camps." ICLEI stands for the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives and is said to be at the center of U.N. efforts to rob Americans of ... everything. There is a U.N. program dubbed "Agenda 21" that emphasizes sustainable development. Now it is the rallying cry of the xenophobic and the paranoid, who've taken to thwarting local initiatives to grow and develop intelligently.

The opening statement in the email read: "Smart meters is [sic] a grid designed to control and incarcerate the public. It is a project from the science of the Department of Defense overseen by MITRE the intelligence operation under former James Schlesinger located in McLean, Virginia."

How does that one grab you? Apart from the parallel universe in spelling, punctuation and sentence fragments, that is. Perhaps you'd like to visit this website for more, Refuse Smart Meter.

"Murder  meters and the Spy Grid were designed by agencies that are informally coordinated under David Boran (skull & bones). Radio waves directed as weapons via frequencies and spying with calculated two way communication devices. There are records on file originating from U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command ..." Etc., etc.

All of this would be laughable, except one conclusion reached by the Times—that projects, even discussions, of major public issues are being canceled due to the vociferousness of the tin-foil hat crowd.

"It sounds a little on the weird side, but we've found we ignore it at our own peril," said George Homewood, a vice president of the American Planning Association's chapter in Virginia, quoted by the Times.

Do I need to make any further points here? Or has the rejection of science and the mistrust of institutions—particularly those that are installing digital meters on people's homes—gone a bit too far? And do you suppose that such a movement might have an impact on your operations, capital investments and, say, your approach to your customers?

The correct answer: it already has. And it's gaining ground.

Phil Carson
Editor-in-chief
Intelligent Utility Daily
pcarson@energycentral.com
303-228-4757

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Comments

The majority strikes back...

Looks like we got an excellent spectrum of remarks here today. Thanks to all.

It is funny how the UN is pilloried for being ineffective, while being demonized for controlling the planet, but I digress, perhaps.

I am most definitely correct in saying that the California PUC next will consider both the right of entire political entities (towns, cities, counties) to opt-out and whether all ratepayers will shoulder the cost for those opt-outs. That's where it gets interesting and at least one commenter below indicates that that will take place when they pry his cold, dead fingers from his programmable thermostat...

I suspect some "readers" merely sit at home all day, receiving Google alerts whenever smart meters are mentioned and immediately pouncing in order to create the noise that is their best and only weapon.

This discussion will continue soon as the CPUC takes up the next two issues.

Regards, your UN-controlled robot, Phil Carson

Sadly or not...

..there will always be those like our friend here who offer conclusive and irrefutable proof that smart meters are the spawn of ICLEI  or Satan or whatever else is hiding under the bed. By all means I endorse their right to their opinions and support them in their behavors. However, to anyone who seeks to obstruct me in my pursuit of actionable and useful information, I say they can get the hell out of the way or get rolled over.

Obviously utilities will be charging "time of use" rates. Obviously they should. Obviously a kWh used at noon on a summer weekday is more precious than one used on a Sunday night. As you use, you need to pay. I want my good behaviors and common sense measures to be rewarded, not lost in other people's complacency; and moreover, I demand never to have to pay for or subsidize the behaviors of our willfully ignorant contributors here who see scams and conspiracies in all this.

If they want to opt out, then let them--and let them pay as any free market requires them to for their decisions. I'm not shouldering dime one of their choice. If Phil Carson is correct in saying that "California objectors now seek to avoid the cost of their opt-out by placing that cost on their fellow ratepayers," my answer is no. Never.  

They want war? Me too. Here's the war I want: I want the war that happens in any free market where one behavior does battle with another one. I want to line up toe to toe, kW to kW  with the anti-empiricists and technology resistors and I want it made unequivically clear on our monthly bills that one of us is outdoing the other. I'll pay time of use rates. I'll load shift. I'll use any energy management technology I can get and I'll be transparently accountable for my usage every fifteen minutes. 

Let me use the technology to become a proficient energy user at my business and in my home. Let me read the numbers and refine my game the way any athlete practices with smart feedback. Let me eliminate my weaknesses and double my strengths. Let the opt-outers and the conspiracy theorists do things their way, blind to the feedback, deaf to solutions, as they like, on that level playing field without any help from me. Then, let's fight it out.

When I win, I can buy their inventory at ten cents on the dollar, sell my house for twice what they get for theirs, and pay less for every hour of electricity I buy than they pay.

Welcome to capitalism in 2012. Stupidity isn't free anymore.

Public Hysteria - Driven By Fear

In the unsure times of today, many resist against anything that is new and desire to return to the "Good Old Days" regardless of the many bad things the "Good Old Days" contained.  It is human instinct to resist change even though it is in reality the only constant.

 

Few people can explain the workings of the microwave or a cell phone, yet they are very widely used technologies that many would not know how to function without.  There were initial outcries' against these technologies when they were first introduced.  But that outcry died out once the public recognized the benefits that the technologies brought.  You would be very challenged to find a home without a microwave or cell phone.  Yet, both of these devices emit more radio waves into the home then smart meters.  Public hysteria, caused by focusing on fear and demonizing something new while ignoring the obvious is one of the side effects of fear.

 

I agree with the comment given by "Culture Run Amok":

"Tell the customer why the technology is GOOD, and talk about it in real, everyday terms with real life examples that apply to large segments of the customer base."

 

The messages need to be real, simple, and repeatable by every segment of the utility workforce.  If the workforce does not believe it and are not able to voice it, then the public will not have a chance at getting it.  Despite the importance of electricity on everyday life, fear could bury the progress and benefits the new technologies could bring.

 

Richard G. Pate

Pate & Associates, Principal

 rgpate@pateassociates.com 

 www.pateassociates.com 

 

Follow us on Twitter: @pateassociates 

Connect with Us on LinkedIn: Richard G. Pate 

Check out our blog for all the latest news: pateassociates.wordpress.com 

 

 

You can talk all day... but talk is cheap...

What consumers know is this:

Smart Meters = TOU = Higher rates

Utilities are lazy and don't have the stomach to fight the fanatical "green radicals" to actually expand capacity

Utilities see TOU as an easy way to transfer the burden straight to the consumer, increase their revenue without increasing their capacity...

Consumers will fight to control the marketplace based on "doing what is in the client's best interest" -

The painful truth is abundantly transparent:  The smart grid/meter issue is a lame attempt to tell us one thing (BS) but really achieve a self-serving policy..

Time to knock it off

What's missing here first is a discussion relative to the article at hand, second, the context that utilities operate in a social compact. In other words, society puts certain restraints on utilities and utilities try to deliver within those constraints.

For instance, California and Colorado have high renewable portfolio standards, established either by legislative means or by petition. The threshold is high enough that "radical green leftists" cannot be driving it -- it's a mainstream societal interest in moving away from coal towards natural gas and renewables voted on by large swaths of society. That's called democracy.

The system in place for a century no longer has the flexibility or the cost-effectiveness to provide as much as energy as anyone wants during peaks, so the utilities are looking for ways to manage demand in order to fulfill their obligations. That's where demand response, time-of-use pricing, etc, come in. Those programs are designed to curtail a sliver of peak use among large numbers of people to get demand down to levels that can be met. And, yes, those programs require smart meters and can avoid large capital expenses that you and the rest of us would pay otherwise to meet that peak. Because the peak only lasts a few hours a day on a select number of days per year, demand management is deemed less expensive and more environmentally sound than building a multi-million dollar peaker plant that would be used less than 100 hours per year.

That may not convince you of anything, but we've tried to explain the rationale in calm terms.

Your arguments would in fact be more powerful if you were more cogent. Please refrain from the types of attacks you're engaged in or we'll look at revoking your right to post.

Regards, Phil Carson

What Conspiracy?

First, I encourage you to go to the dictionary and define "Conspriracy Theory"

My definition:  "Two or more colluding in secret to harm a third party"

Agenda 21 is hardly "in secret" - in fact, George H. Bush signed off on it in 1992 along with 178 other nations at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio...

ICLEI was a local organization that decided to push the UN's policies in local cities by passing local 'global warming' type inititatives including restrictions on greenhouse gases.  The UN found out and decided to formally take this orginazation under it's wing and create a national platform to implement the UN's Agenda 21 on a voluntary basis...

Here is the real story from the horse's mouth... a friendly interview from one of the early movers and shakers within ICLEI - of course, this interview was done well before the UN decided to scrape their website of any connection with ICLEI and vice-versa for ICLEI's websites.  But they are joined at the lips as evil simese-twins who are hell bent on stripping you of your property rights:

http://sovereignty.net/p/sd/How%20ICLEI%20was%20created.pdf

You need more proof?  I can supply plenty, as I have done plenty of research... and not from right wing tea party blogs... I read from the sites, whitepapers, and newspaper articles from the perpatrators themselves....

 

Proof? No.

Sorry, but there's no "proof" here in the first place, so it's doubtful you have "more." Your source here is a crank conspiracy theorist whose thinking is fortunately onfined to a fringe of paranoiacs.

I hasten to add that I heartily endorse your right to any crank wacko off-world irrationality you like. I hasten even faster to make damn sure that you can't ever pass the bill for your lunacy onto me or anyone else.

 

I don't care where you get this stuff, right-wing, left-wing, Tea Party or Beer Party. Embrace it all you like, and if you insist on opting out of smart meters or energy management technology or any other aspect of reality in the 21st century, then by all means go hide in a bunker reading Michael Coffman or David Icke or any other similar genius, and by all means pay your own way for going.

Take off your Myopic Blinders...

You speak first and engage your reading lobe later, if at all... did you actually read the post?  did you read the interview... I did not comment on "smart meters" - I was commenting on ICLEI... and ICLEI is NOT a conspiracy...  it is you that has an unabashed belief that there can be no other opinion or facts that may effect this debate.

Agenda 21 is a real policy signed onto voluntarily by 179 nations...  do you refute this?

http://www.un.org/geninfo/bp/enviro.html

Agenda 21's primary focus was on "Enviromental Issues" and "Sustainable Development"... do you refute this?  see "Pricnciple Themes" in the 7th row:  http://www.un.org/geninfo/bp/enviro.html

President Clinton signed EO 12852 to create the President's Council on Sustainable Development... do you refute this?  do you believe his council had NOTHING to do with Agenda 21?

http://www.google.com/url?url=http://clinton2.nara.gov/PCSD/Charter/%23eo&rct=j&q=president+clinton+EO+presideints+council+on+sustainable+development&usg=AFQjCNFY9PVcVqc9zlOYQW0A2twuAp4gBA&sa=X&ei=KtQ6T56ON8jVtgf37qT9Cg&ved=0CC8QygQwAA

Do you believe the "Partnership for Sustainable Communities" formed by the DOT, EPA, & HUD in June of 2009 was not a direct initiative to embrace the voluntary policies of Agenda 21 as defined by the 40 chapter document officially accepted by 179 nations at the 1992 Earth Summit.  http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/partnership/index.html

Agenda 21 + "Partnership of Sustainable Communities" (DOT, HUD, EPA)

http://www.sedgwickcounty.org/commissioners/Ranzau%20Readings/Sustainable%20Planning%20Grants%20and%20UN%20Agenda%2021.pdf

Sir, it is you that is wearing a brain cap that prevents you from hearing additional facts that may effect the direction of this debate. 

and, by the way, do you refute the facts I just laid out?  or will you scoff once again and show your idealogy is stronger than logic?

Smart Meters and Cultural Toxicity

I think the proponents of “smart meters” continue to overlook the painfully obvious truth: the actual purpose of the meters is to allow utilities to charge “market” (or time-of-day) prices for electricity. Considering that the whole idea of “market prices” is largely a contrivance, it is no wonder the “peasants” are upset.

 

Let me explain. Wholesale power prices are based on computer modeling of a simulated market (take a look at the Independent System Operator (ISO) algorithms) with nodes, line restrictions, and power demands. The models then spit out the “price-of-power” at any given time based on these various elements.

 

However, unlike say telecommunications, the consumer is unable to buy power from a number of different suppliers, sources and methods. There is basically one set of wires coming into the house. Further, there are severe restrictions on increasing the number of wires (or power plants, for that matter). Not exactly a “market” is the classic sense.

 

Thus, the creation of a wholesale market is inherently flawed, but utilities are more or less forced to go along with the contrivance and are therefore subject to greater risk. Their answer appears to be to simply pass all the risk to the consumer.

 

Further exacerbating the basic inequity is the fact that the peaks in consumer energy usage are linked to the price in the ISO markets but those prices are completely out of proportion to actual costs, with the price artificially created by the computer models. Thus the consumer is unfairly hammered when he really needs the power

 

Politicians have jumped on the band wagon, thinking that they can “save-the-planet” by driving up energy costs (time-of-day rates) to reduce CO2 emissions. Utilities go along with the scam because they can make more money with little or no risk and are not advocates for their customers in any case.

 

The folks are a hell of a lot smarter than the “smart-meter’ advocates think.  

 

I propose a different approach: (1) don’t waste money on the exotic, expensive “smart” meters, just use the semi-dumb ones (that have been around for years) that get rid of having to “eyeball” the meter for power usage; and (2) actually value your customers and do your best to keep power costs down, even if that means irritating the leftist political class.

Folks you

It's impossible to give much respect to anyone who purports to speak for "folks" and who views "irritating the leftist political class" as desirable and amusing.

Nothing about your post indicates much actual knowledge of how utilities work, or of their constraints their rectitude. You seem eager to gloat in your grasp of "painfully obvious truths" but if you see conspiracies and manipulation behind TOU rates, perhaps you're in line to report UFOs and black helicopters to Alex Jones as “painfully obvious” too.

You don't have much company in the business world, it seems. I'd like to meet the facilities manager or the energy supervisor for any company anywhere who tells his bosses that no, we're not going to use smart meters, and no, we're going to decline an EMS, and no, we're not load shifting or installing CFLs and timers...because this is all basically inequitable, and  peaks in consumer energy usage are linked to the price in the ISO markets but those prices are completely out of proportion to actual costs, with the price artificially created by the computer models.

Here on earth, you see, people get fired for that sort of foolishness.  And good business thinking is rapidly being adopted by people who think of themselves as smart facilities managers in their own homes.

I can't speak for the "leftist polictical class," but it's likely that people who understand more than you do about this would find your thinking of little value in  practice. Fortunately, your suggestions about keeping semi-dumb hardward have been ignored , and even the semi-dumn consumers are rapidly coming around.




 

 




That's the best you've got?

when you can't defend your ideology you immediately play the "kook card" of black helicopters et al... too bad you can't defend your postion with logic or even a rational response that adults could consider and engage... no you go straight to the Rules for Radicals tactic of ridicule... only problem, it no longer works... we are like termites.. you stomp on us and the next thing you know you're being engulfed by the whole swarm...

Not happening all over the California

I would agree that the fringe element is stoking the fire, but fringe elements only have political strength if they can influence or move some of the non fringe elements.  PG&E's problems with smart meters did not start in Marin County.  They actually started in Bakersfield which is about as far as you can get from Marin in California, geographically and idealogically.  The territory wide smart grid issues provided the fringe element an opportunity to exploit these mistakes.  Moreover, with a content customer base, the fringe element would not have had anyone to listen to their nonsense.

I think we are overlooking how people felt about PG&E even before the meters were installed.  If you look at the smart meter installs and the level of dissatisfaction across all California utilities, I would suggest they correlate with the level of brand equity or good will the utilities had built up.  There are several utilities in California that have had no pushback and fringe elements exist across much of the state.  These additional costs, in part, reflect a lack of trust and feelings that PG&E did not have consumers best interest at heart.

Throw in social networks and the ability of consumers to circle the wagons and you get this mess.  All utilities and regulators must adjust to these new social trends.  Branding and doing what is right for your customer is more important than ever for utilities.  Without a content customer base, it will be difficult for utilities to deliver on their long term goals.

 

Not happening all over the California

I would agree that the fringe element is stoking the fire, but fringe elements only have political strength if they can influence or move some of the non fringe elements.  PG&E's problems with smart meters did not start in Marin County.  They actually started in Bakersfield which is about as far as you can get from Marin in California, geographically and idealogically.  The territory wide smart grid issues provided the fringe element an opportunity to exploit these mistakes.  Moreover, with a content customer base, the fringe element would not have had anyone to listen to their nonsense.

I think we are overlooking how people felt about PG&E even before the meters were installed.  If you look at the smart meter installs and the level of dissatisfaction across all California utilities, I would suggest they correlate with the level of brand equity or good will the utilities had built up.  There are several utilities in California that have had no pushback and fringe elements exist across much of the state.  These additional costs, in part, reflect a lack of trust and feelings that PG&E did not have consumers best interest at heart.

Throw in social networks and the ability of consumers to circle the wagons and you get this mess.  All utilities and regulators must adjust to these new social trends.  Branding and doing what is right for your customer is more important than ever for utilities.  Without a content customer base, it will be difficult for utilities to deliver on their long term goals.

 

Thanks to all

Thanks first to the reader who discovered my typo: that it's "Refuse Smart Meter" (not "Refuses Smart Meter"). My correspondent suggested that I undercut my argument about the illiteracy of the fringe by making a typo. I stand accused!

Second, one commenter noted that the cost of a public relations effort to counter the fringe lunacy will add to the cost of electricity. Let me add that the California objectors now seek to avoid the cost of their opt-out by placing that cost on their fellow ratepayers. Marin and Mendocino counties have 400,000 people. With three to a meter, and an approximate cost of $375 for a meter swap and manually read meters, that's nearly a cost of $50 million in the first year alone for fellow ratepayers to pay. Marin, for instance, has a 50 percent higher income than fellow Californians. So those folks would have their far less affluent neighbors pay the cost of Marin's political vendetta against PG&E. When that fact hits home, look for some outrage by the majority.

Finally, note that I removed a comment that merely served to link to a commercial advertisement. Folks, any such postings will be deleted, as will ravings of any kind.

Regards, Phil Carson

The fringe add significant cost

Let's not forget that managing the irrationality of the fringe opposition to smart grid upgrades, such as smart meters, adds significant cost to utility regulatory and operational spend, all of which gets passed along to customers in rates.  For every step forward we take toward a better energy future through technology and information it seems we take at least a portion of a step backwards to deal with the alarmist tone and irrational arguments of the fringe.  And because utilities are so easily painted as big, uncaring and greedy monopolies the fringe is permitted to spew nonsense with impunity.  All the while customer dollars are leaking out of their pockets without the knowledge of the vast majority of them.

Culture Run Amok?

Excellent article Phil!  In today's world, the pervasiveness and ease of mass communications tools like FB, Twitter, and even forums for posting and commenting on information here make the issues that you raise in your article all too real.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and smart people can disagree on the details, but in this case, it is more than just the details that seem to be at stake.  Many folks continue to argue against the entire concept of AMI and although you see most of the resistance targeted at issues of RF exposure, increasingly we read about the 'vast utility/government conspiracy' that is occuring due to the rollout of this type of technology.  

Technology can be frightening, and technology that is deployed in a haphazard method, without full support and education of the affected population only becomes more highly suspect.  I still believe that consumers will become more accepting of the risks, and more welcoming of the benefits as those benefits are better understood and publicized.  For today, all we hear about are the risks because the issue of benefits is still too complicated for many consumers to fully grasp.  This is the area that the industry needs to work hard towards changing.  Tell the customer why the technology is GOOD, and talk about it in real, everyday terms with real life examples that apply to large segments of the customer base.  The current model of 'here's your new meter whether you like it or not, and oh by the way your bill is going to go up for the next 10 years to cover my increased embedded cost' seems to not be cutting it.  Let's hope that we will see a different approach very soon while there is still time to engage in meaningful dialogue.

Thanks again for your insightful article.  Great reading!  

Disclaimer - I work for Itron, and I want to point out that the comments and opinions above are mine alone, and should not be construed as representing the opinions of Itron in any way/shape/form/fashion!