Few and fewer opting out of smart meters

California rules soon on communities' rights

Phil Carson | Sep 30, 2012


Preliminary numbers are in on the number of customers opting out of smart meters. They are few and getting fewer.

In a sample from a handful of utilities offered late last week in a Utility Telecom Council (UTC) webcast, "Smart Meter Opt-Out: The Policy and Impacts," the numbers appear quite modest and, in at least one case, are declining.

The UTC webcast featured regulators from Delaware, Michigan and Oregon and utility representatives from California, Maine and Maryland. I'll try to offer a few highlights here from a very thorough and informative discussion that lasted nearly two hours.   

Delaware does not have an opt-out provision for those who object to smart meters, but the other states represented on the program do. All of them charge customers for opting out based on costs for manual meter reading and associated program costs. (In some cases, relay equipment must be added to a mesh network for meter data backhaul, where opt-outs create holes.) 

The participating utilities on the UTC panel last week mostly agreed that they had attempted to provide expert literature reviews on meter-related health concerns and would continue to examine the data privacy issue. However, the thrust of opt-out programs appeared to be that such an option should be made available for no other reason than customer preference. 

Back to those low opt-out numbers. 

According to Lisa Gorsuch, a senior utility analyst in the electric and gas division at the Oregon Public Utility Commission, Portland General Electric has four opt-out customers. Avista Utilities has none. 

Laney Brown, director of AMI programs for Central Maine Power, said that an initial opt-out rate of 1.4 percent among CMP's more than 600,000 customers has continued to decline. 

Brown added that among CMP's lessons learned was that utilities going into an AMI deployment should devise an opt-out provision from the start and build it into the business plan and perform a risk assessment of towns and cities that might seek to opt-out en masse and reach out to them. 

According to Cliff Gleicher, senior director for the SmartMeter program at Pacific Gas & Electric, 31,000 customers affecting about 51,000 meters have opted out in a service territory of 9.7 million. That's well under 1 percent, he pointed out. Still, an opt-out provision makes sense. 

"The fairest playing field we can devise includes personal choice," Gleicher said.  

The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) staff issued a report available here that examined smart meter issues, according to Patrick Hudson, smart grid section manager in the Electric Reliability Division of the MPSC. The commission is satisfied that federal health and safety guidelines reflect that smart meters pose no verifiable health hazards, but it will take up the issues of cyber security and data privacy in future proceedings.

The low numbers of opt-out customers should drive industry discussion and I'll be curious as to what direction that discussion takes. The low numbers may reflect simple aversion to the increased cost of opting out, though advocates have suggested that increased understanding of smart meters' potential benefits is at work as well. And in California, efforts continue to pass opt-out costs along to fellow customers.  

Does all this, shall we say, "vindicate" smart meters and advanced metering infrastructure? 

I'd make the following observations. Utilities and regulators are wise to avoid wrestling with folks who pit the certainty of emotion against the uncertainties of science and, instead, focus on customer preference as the basis for opt-out. I'm also heartened that, at least for the utilities involved in or mentioned by regulators in the UTC webcast (PG&E, Central Maine Power, Portland General Electric, Avista Utilities), those who opt-out must pay the cost. Otherwise, you end up with subsidized anarchy.  

A major remaining issue that concerns many utilities is whether entire towns or cities can opt out of smart metering and California is set to rule on that issue in January 2013. I don't know the technical details, but scattered individuals who opt out apparently don't threaten the system; thousands of customers clustered in one area might well present problems.

As to the vindication question, many in the power industry are talking about alternatives to the meter as the portal into the home. Smart meters may serve as end-of-line sensors and measure consumption for billing, but not extend utility visibility into the home. Rather, Internet-based means may supplant the meter as the means to communicate with the customer.    

Another issue worth examining and maintaining vigilance on is the fact that very small numbers of people have created inordinate amounts of noise over a technology implementation accepted by the vast majority. It is difficult to discern the myriad motivations that must be at work in the anti-meter crowd, but a weakened American media has been drawn to the outlandish complaints as if they are equally valid as the science that thoroughly refutes their position. That dynamic remains a threat that the power industry still hasn't parried in any credible way.  

Phil Carson 
Intelligent Utility Daily

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Re-Think Smart

Thank you for the article, Phil.  I was an early adopter of the smart meter.  Being environmentally conscious and wanting to save some money I agreed to having it added to our home when it was first available some years ago.  We saw none of the promised savings but kept the meter anyway.

Later, I developed blood clots to my lungs that almost took my life two separate times.   Dr. friends were shocked that I dodged this bullet, twice.  We discovered that I have a blood disorder which causes clotting for which I now take blood thinners.  Things that accentuate clotting are life threatening to me.

I recently learned from the report by another Dr. that being too close to the meter causes blood cells to agglutinate.  This could be a death sentence to people like me with a history of pulmonary embolism.   The meter sits right outside the wall closest to where I pray each morning, and read at night.  It's also on the same wall as my office.   I can certainly move my chair and office but how far from the meter is a healthy distance for someone like me, no one can tell.

I requested that the meter be removed when a technician came to service it.  I have no way of knowing if he did in fact remove the smart meter.  If someone can help me determine that I'd be appreciative. 

The utility industry received large incentives from the banker bailout bill to promote and install smart meters.   How much of this money do they want to forgo when people begin to sue due to health concerns, or death, due to smart meters?   We need to re-think smart.

 Phil, I hope you publish the following link along with my comment.



Smart meters have many

Smart meters have many advantages. They will provide the details of the consumption so that the customers can get an idea about wasteful consumption and thus try to control it. This will save energy as well as mobey. But many people are opposing smart meter technology.  The smart meters use radio waves that can cause health problems. This may be a possible reason for their oppose.

Appliance repair Simi Valley

Customers ARE owned, here in NV

NV Energy is by far the largest provider of electricity in the state of Nevada.  There may be sixteen providers here, but most are small co-ops which serve the rural regions.  NV Energy has what are known as "captive customers."  We have no choice in the matter.  Wouldn't it be great to be able to run your private business, and report consistent "good news" to your shareholders because you sold a lot of juice (summers are long and hot here in southern NV), to a guaranteed number of customers?  What a concept: no need to earn my business, customers are handed to NVE on a silver platter.

And, American taxpayers (through the 2009 Stimulus) plus NVE ratepayers are stuck with the cost of the Smart Meter program.  However, the current rate structure is based on METER READERS READING METERS.  Please explain to me how retaining my existing analog meter, and having someone continue to read it, costs NVE?  They have not so far included cost recovery for their ASD (including smart meters), in any rate case.  Everyone with a smart meter should be receiving a discounted service charge.  They are paying for a service they are not receiving.  Me?  Status quo.

NVE is just pissed off because they were in such a huge rush to get in on the DOE stimulus money grab.  They neglected to ask ratepayers whether this was something they wanted to pay for.  Before customers knew it, mosquito crews had done mass installations of smart meters in neighborhoods all over the valley.  They were aggressive, rude, demanding, and intimidating to customers who asked, "What are you doing to my house?"

So, over a year later, we are still duking it out at the PUCN.  Smart meters are not such a smart idea.  Had monitoring stopped at transformers serving groups of houses, NVE could have realized a savings of 5%, just by adjusting their production.  But they got nosey and greedy, and the camel's nose got under the tent:  they just HAD to know what was going on inside our homes.  And that's where we draw the line.

Good points

Thanks Jack for pointing out that interval meters could be used as a clumsy means to retain "ownership" of the customer. I know that's an accepted term, but on what planet are "customers" "owned"? You have to lure them with superior products/services and keep them through solid customer service. 

And Milton's got a great point to make any in-home visibility an opt-in matter. 

Would anyone care to comment on what I've read and been told that appliances in the home have a signature based on their electron draw and duration that can be read as appliance-specific data? In that case, data privacy concerns are the real hurdle here, not radio frequency radiation. If that's the case, I remain atop my data privacy soap box. 

Regards, Phil Carson 

Extending smart meters into the home should be opt-in

Any move by utilities to extend smart meters into the home by keeping track of individual appliances and perhaps even controlling them should be on an opt-in basis only. This would be similar to the program many utilities have to install a device with the customer's permission that temporarily shuts down the A/C in the case of power shortages.

While there could be many advantages to the customer if the utility did monitor internal use, most (all?) of these same advantages could be obtained by software and perhaps hardware the customer could privately install. There would be no need to pass the customer's internal usage data to the utility.

     Milton Scritsmier

     Boulder, CO

Smart Meter As Portal

Meters are measuring devices.  The notion that they should do anything more than record electric consumption on some defined periodic basis was and continues to be a terrible idea except perhaps to the extent it keeps consumers wedded to the incumbent utility (also a terrible idea).

Jack Ellis, Tahoe City, CA