The Case of the Dumb Smart Meters

pg and e smartmeter

Fast Company loves smart electric meters. They’re the first, essential step in the smart electric grid, which promises to fight global warming, improve efficiency, and bring consumer control into our electricity system.

Pacific Gas & Electric loves SmartMeters too. They’ve installed 3.7 million, with a goal of 10 million by 2012–the largest program in the nation.

Who doesn’t love smart meters? Thousands of PG&E customers in Bakersfield, California. They blame the newly installed meters for doubling and tripling their power bills over the summer, compared to the previous year. The SF Chronicle reported that “Angry homeowners repeatedly booed PG&E representatives during a public hearing on the meters earlier this month.”

PG&E says it’s a case of mistaken identity. The true culprits were July heat waves and recent rate increases. Every meter they’ve inspected so far has been working properly. (Local bloggers seem to accept this explanation). A little suspicion of new technology is normal. This dustup raises a larger issue, though. Most likely, the Bakersfield residents who are complaining now about higher bills didn’t have much awareness of the rate hikes when they were enacted in October 2008 and March 2009. (In an interesting wrinkle, it turned out PG&E overcollected and has to pay back customers $424 million). If utility companies are going to install little meters that enable their customers to check usage and rates hour by hour, they have to be able to deal with the fallout of increased transparency.

[Image via]AK