Officials Tout Smart Meters, Some Texans Balk

Although the benefits of a scalable smart grid are becoming more apparent to government officials, some citizens don't want to trade in their old meters.

by / November 27, 2012

Smart electricity meters could be part of a future smart grid infrastructure that helps mitigate power outages and optimizes efficiency, but not everyone is on board. The meters allow homeowners to track their energy usage, which can lead to personal savings in addition to government savings, particularly during emergencies. But in Texas, homeowners are increasingly complaining about smart meters being installed on their homes without their permission, The New York Times reported.

The recent storm in the Northeast brought a resurgence of discussions about infrastructure technologies that are more resilient to extreme weather, and smart grids became the center of conversation for many public officials. Hurricane Sandy left more than 8.5 million customers without electricity for prolonged periods -- in some places for up to two weeks. Smart electric grids would have provided a way to isolate outages, minimize downtime and the solution is scalable. “The point is that you don’t have to build a big-bang microgrid right away. It can be done incrementally,” said Datta Godbole, director of technology at Honeywell.

In Texas, legislation was passed seven years ago that encouraged the installation of smart meters on homes and now 90 percent of meters in the state's deregulated power market are of the smart variety. Smart meters allow residents to switch power providers more easily and allows power companies to identify outages before people report them. One Dallas-based utility company has responded to more than 2,500 power failures without anyone reporting them since this spring. But many Texans want the program to be optional for homeowner participation.

“For some people, the benefit does not match the cost,” AARP official Tim Morstad said. Other Texans complained about the health risks from wireless signals emanated and received by smart meters, while others have complained about possible security risks. A study performed by researchers at the University of Southern California found that while it is possible for the unencrypted signals of smart meters to be intercepted, the amount of effort and technical knowledge required for such an undertaking makes such a security breach unlikely.