Those New Smart Electricity Meters May Be Too Damned Smart

Too smart: Buzz, being a geek, was pretty excited about the rollout of new-fangled "smart meters" in Texas by Oncor, the giant electric transmission company. A new gadget that allows us to see exactly how we're using electricity by measuring consumption in 15-minute increments and even allows us to monitor our home usage remotely online? You had us at "new gadget," Oncor. Buzz is a dude. We're chromosomally wired to love the smart meter.

At least that was the case until we started checking out info on smart meters coming from Canada, where meters have already provided authorities with information used to shut down several indoor marijuana growing operations, which consume lots of power for lights at odd hours.

That leads to the obvious question: Does Texas really need smart meters? Seriously, has any electricity company innovation ever really saved you money? Why, this whole big-brother-esque monitoring regime seems suspicious. First they're collecting information on when you run your dishwasher, next men are pouring out of black helicopters to come confiscate your guns.

To be fair, we called Oncor to see whether its smart meter program might harm the small, entrepreneurial farmers who are the backbone of this great state. Surprisingly, Oncor spokeswoman Carol Peters didn't hang up when we asked about the meters' threat to pot farms. "I don't know anything about that," Peters said, laughing. Oncor is in the early phases of installing meters in 3.4 million Texas locations, a plan it hopes to complete by 2012. Marijuana farms are not on its plate just now.

So what's the advantage to smart meters, then? "The advantage is that what once was unclear to you is now clear," she said.

Wow. That's, like, metaphysical 'n' shit.

Actually, what she meant was that when you can check to see how much every 15 minutes of electricity costs, you might find yourself clicking off some lights. Once Oncor completes its installation, electricity retailers could set up billing programs that vary your rate depending on the time of day you use electricity. (Power costs less at night, when demand is lower.) Meantime, Oncor has found that merely by having detailed information about usage, consumers tend to use less electricity.

Of course, some people probably realize that saving money on their electricity bills is as simple as turning off a light and don't need a fancy-pants meter with wireless networking capability, incremental monitoring and a compass in the stock to tell them this. Those people are obviously not dudes.

Patrick Williams

 
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