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Concerns About Customer Privacy

Do 'smart meters' reveal too much?

Utility guards usage data

"We take customers' privacy and security very seriously," said CenterPoint Energy spokeswoman Alicia Dixon. "We will not release customers' usage information without their written consent."

CenterPoint, an electric transmission and distribution utility serving the Houston area, is placing some 2 million smart meters throughout its territory and expects to complete the job by midyear.

About 4.7 million smart meters have been installed in the deregulated electric markets of the state, including Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston. New meters for an additional 1.9 million customers in the rest of the deregulated electricity market — which includes Waco, Abilene and parts of the Rio Grande Valley — will be installed by 2014.

Municipally owned utilities in places such as San Antonio and Austin are implementing their own advanced meter programs.

Besides allowing customers to fully track their electricity usage, smart meters enable electric providers to offer "time-of-day pricing" in which electricity costs more at peak demand times, Hadley said.

Time-of-use rates charge more for electricity exactly when many older Texans need it most, Morstad said. "If you need air conditioning to stay safe and cool on a summer afternoon, time of use is likely not for you."

The cost of the new meters is passed on to consumers, who pay an extra fee of about $3 per month over several years.

Despite the utility's assurance that his information is safe, Strub wonders about the security. He still wants to know: "What protection is available to keep my information private?"

You may also like: Can smart meters reduce costs? >>

Kelley Shannon is a writer living in Austin.

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