HARRISBURG — Starting the dishwasher, plugging in a hair-dryer or flicking on a light switch will register with utilities almost instantly when their customers are monitored by state-of-the-art electric meters. So-called “smart meters” represent about four in 10 electric meters installed across the state, and utilities appear to be running ahead of schedule in introducing them before a 2023 deadline. Upgraded meters that give electricity companies and their customers real-time information about energy use are long overdue, regulators say. “Power is still billed the way it was 100 years ago,” said Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, spokesman for the state’s Public Utility Commission. But consumer advocates cite downsides — including higher bills for some households. Others complain that customers shouldn’t be forced to accept the technology, even though it’s required by a 2008 state energy conservation law. Pennsylvania is slightly behind the curve in implementing smart meters. The meters are installed in more than 90 percent of homes in Nevada and Maine, according to a separate study this spring. More than half of the homes in at least 16 states have them. Pennsylvania’s progress is localized, with three of four smart meters installed in Philadelphia and its suburbs. In western Pennsylvania, PennPower has replaced old meters with the new technology, as well. In most of the state, the rollout begins this summer and continues during the next four years. The technology itself won’t translate into higher energy bills, say consumer advocates, lawmakers and industry officials. But it does allow utilities to charge based on the time of day, with higher rates for running appliances or the air conditioning when demand is greatest.
The sysadmin-activist at the center of a bizarre legal battle over a smart meter network in Seattle, Washington, says he never expected a simple records request to turn into a lawsuit. Phil Mocek told The Register that when he asked Seattle City Light, a public power utility, to provide details on the designs and rollout of its smart power meter grid, he was simply hoping to find out what security safeguards the city and hardware providers Landis+Gyr and Sensus USA planned to use. “We all assume these meters simply monitor the amount of energy usage in the home,” Mocek explained. “But they monitor it in real time in ways that other meters did not.” The worry, Mocek said, is that the city may have been convinced by the suppliers to install a network with poor security protections or insecure protocols that could place citizens at risk of having their energy-use remotely spied on or their personal information stolen. To find out more about the meters that the city was planning to install and the security measures in place to protect those meters, Mocek filed a request for documents under the Washington Public Records Act (PRA) via the MuckRock investigations website. This, says Mocek, is where things started to get real odd. The free-software advocate said that after an email exchange with Seattle City Light officials, he obtained some of the records and uploaded them to the web – only to be told that the smart meter suppliers objected to the release of the information on the grounds that the unredacted documents would disclose their trade secrets and open the public to terrorist attacks on their infrastructure. Mocek was given a mix of unredacted and redacted documents by the city, the meter makers complained, whereas he should only have received and published files they had censored. Seattle officials said they were not skilled enough to know for sure which parts to redact, so left it to the suppliers to edit the files – yet, unredacted information managed to make its way into Mocek’s hands and onto the internet.
OGDEN — Logan Sattelmair says she’s living her own version of the American dream. Sattelmair, 25, purchased her first home, on Van Buren Avenue in Ogden, last summer and is employed full-time with Ogden city’s Animal Services division. She says as a young, single homeowner, money can be tight. But she keeps a budget, works hard and is proud that she can provide for own needs. Nearly a year into taking the plunge, Sattelmair said a recent bill from Questar Gas threw a serious monkey wrench into her pattern, adding a small element of nightmare to the whole independent homeowner equation. On April 27, Sattelmair said she got a bill from Questar for $312. Sattelmair said her previous month’s gas bill for her two-bedroom home was $44. Throughout the winter months, her gas bills hovered around that number.
“When I saw that bill, I said, ’Holy crap, this is crazy,’” she said. “I instantly got up and turned the heat off. I had no idea what was going on. I thought maybe I had some kind of leak or something.”
After making a call to Questar, Sattlemair eventually found out her gas delivery system was working just fine. Her meter, on the other hand, was a different story.
“I was told by someone in customer service that they noticed my bill was lower than what the previous owner had been paying,” she said. “They said they sent someone over to check and the meter had been misreading my usage.”
Sattelmair was told she must backpay for the gas she used. Questar is allowing her to space the payment over six months, interest free, but she says even that will stretch her pocketbook thin.
“I am single, doing it all on my own,” she said. “This is going to be like having another $50 bill each month. I’m already living tight as it is.”
Questar spokesman Darren Shepherd said bad meter readings, while rare, can happen. He said the Utah natural gas tariff, which is regulated by the Utah Public Services Commission, allows Questar to make billing corrections regardless of the cause of error. (Details on the gas tariff can be found in a 142-page document available at Questar’s website.)
“It’s about paying for the gas you actually use,” Shepherd said, noting that sometimes billing errors occur on the opposite end of the spectrum and Questar overcharges customers, then must pay them back or credit their account.
For billing errors, Shepherd said customers are typically allowed to make payments without interest over a period equal to the time the account was misread.
CHICAGO (WLS) — There’s a new warning from the Illinois attorney general concerning the new smart meters, and people who may use the technology to take advantage of you. If you don’t have one already you will soon; ComEd says it has installed about 2 million smart meters. But the I-Team found that some businesses could use the new meters to sell you a questionable plan. It’s out with old analog meters and in with new digital ones. You can use them to save money by tracking your real time electricity use. But with the technology, comes a warning. “So there is a lot of potential for consumers to be deceived and ultimately spend more money,” Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said. Madigan says unregulated, alternative energy suppliers will soon be asking for authorization to to read smart meters, so they can sell customized electric plans based on user habits. Some of those plans could save you money but it also opens the door for potential bad deals. “They may come to your home, they may call you on the phone, maybe they will send you something in the mail asking you to sign that authorization,” Madigan said.