En español | When retirees Michael and Rita Sabo of Escondido bought an electric car, they decided to try to reduce their home energy usage by 3 kilowatts a day to make up for recharging it.
Each evening, they go online to check their power usage. The daily review has inspired them to conserve energy by:
- waiting until they have a full load to run the clothes washer;
- allowing the laundry to air-dry instead of using the dryer; and
- wiping down the oven by hand rather than using its self-cleaning feature.
"Utilities used to pat themselves on the back for being a presence in neighborhoods. They were another pair of eyes to spot residents who needed help," said independent consumer consultant Barbara Alexander, who helped prepare a report on the meters for AARP, the Consumers Union, Public Citizen, the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates and the National Consumer Law Center.
Spatt said the utilities should bear the cost of installing the new meters, rather than passing it on to consumers. "Statewide, the tab is close to $5 billion. These meters are not necessarily going to deliver benefits that will make it pencil-out for consumers."
Industry representatives say customers will benefit later because consumer awareness and peak energy pricing will reduce the future need for new power plants.
San Diego Gas & Electric officials argue that smart meters help customers better monitor their energy consumption. They note that without smart meters, customers have to wait until the end of the month to know what their energy bill will be, but with smart meters they can check online every day and learn when they are using the most energy. “Customers will also have the choice of deciding which rate schedule they prefer to be on,” said Ted Reguly, director of the smart meter program office for SDG&E. “For example, those home during the day might prefer a flat rate vs. the peak time rate.”
Alexander urges state regulators and lawmakers to create additional consumer protections to keep up with the technology. Privacy is an issue, she said, because utilities are gathering an immense amount of information about how we live. They know when you are home and what appliances you are running. "Many businesses would love to have access to that kind of information."
April Bolduc, SDG&E communications manager, said smart meters will not be able to tell utilities what appliances customers are operating.
Resistance to smart meters in California has led to lawsuits and legislative action. Some communities have called for moratoriums on installing the meters, but regulators have denied the requests.
Roughly 8,000 consumers have contacted the CPUC about possible overcharges and the health effects of the meters' radio waves, according to Terrie Prosper, a commission spokeswoman.
The CPUC recommends that customers with concerns about smart meters call their utility company first. If they still aren't satisfied, they can file a complaint by calling 1-800-649-7570 or by going online to cpuc.ca.gov/puc. Complaints about radio waves should be directed to the Federal Communications Commission, not the CPUC, at 1-888-225-5322.
Maureen West is a freelance writer based in Phoenix, Ariz.