As consumers push back against smart meters, utilities stall upgrade plans

E&E • Posted: Thursday, May 10, 2012

Customer backlash over new technology for measuring power usage is slowing utilities’ efforts to upgrade their networks.

As utilities such as Pacific Gas and Electric Co., Central Maine Power Co. and Central Vermont Public Service Corp. push forward with installations of “smart meters” — wireless digital technology that monitors electricity usage and transmits data in real time — states are allowing dissatisfied consumers to opt out for an extra fee.

“Charging fees for opting out is pretty outrageous,” said Charles Acquard, executive director of the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates.

Because some customers are keeping their conventional devices, some utilities are holding off on plans to roll out more smart meters as they wait for regulators to set policies for the technology. Utilities’ nationwide investment into the smart meter grid is expected to total nearly $29 billion by 2015.

Utilities view the new technology as a benefit because they can use the information to charge higher rates during peak demand times. While utilities say the meters should help consumers by increasing control over consumption, customers have complained that the devices raise their bills. Some say the devices compromise privacy and increase health risks (Mark Chediak, Bloomberg, May 9). — JE