The installation of smart meters has raised concerns among some Texans. Image Courtesy: EVB Energy Ltd.

If smart meters haven’t been installed in your neighborhood yet, chances are they will be soon.  Problem is: some Texans don’t want them.

It’s a growing dilemma for lawmakers and regulators.  Complaints from a vocal group of Texans have begun piling up in legislative offices,  the Texas Public Utility Commission and even with the press. Over 100 residents have signed a petition. A state representative also has weighed in.

Smart meters are those digital devices used by the state’s transmission and distribution utilities to measure electric consumption. Also known as advanced meters or digital meters, the smart meters are replacing old analog boxes attached to the outside of homes and businesses. Hundreds of thousands of the smart meters have been installed or will be installed in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and elsewhere.

The meter rollouts follow a decision by the Texas Legislature in 2005 that allows electric delivery firms to charge customers for the advanced systems. In theory, the meters should allow Texans to more easily monitor their electricity consumption, and allow electric utilities to operate a more efficient power grid. But lawmakers have begun getting an earful, with some Texans complaining the meters undermine health and personal liberty.  “I am extremely upset by my obvious lack of choice,” one League City resident wrote in a letter to Public Utility Commission chairwoman Donna Nelson. Others complain the meters could be used for data mining.

The PUC and Chairwoman Nelson have begun to evaluate the concerns, saying they may create a system whereby Texans can opt-out from the meters. You can find documents relating to a PUC proceeding on the issue here. Chairwoman Nelson has said that while she believes the meters provide a number of important benefits, she nonetheless takes very seriously the public’s concerns.

Advanced meters already have a spotty history in Texas. A misstep by the Oncor electric utility in Dallas, for instance, led the company to acquire hundreds of thousands of meters before state standards were in place. Described as “white elephants” by the Dallas Morning News, these meters were eventually yanked out by Oncor and replaced. The utility’s customers got stuck with the bill for both the white elephants and the meters that replaced them.

And in Houston, where residential customers are paying $3 per month for the advanced meters, their installation caused an unwanted increase in meter reading costs for customers with natural gas service. That’s because CenterPoint Energy — which owns both the electric transmission utility and the separate gas utility in Houston — shifted all its electric meter reading costs to the gas utility. Previously, meter reading was a shared expense between the company’s gas and electric divisions.

Like to weigh in on the issue? You can write to the Public Utility Commission at PUC Central Records, P.O. Box 13326, Austin, TX, 78711-3326. Be sure to reference Project #40190 (“PUC Proceeding to Evaluate the Feasibility of Instituting a Smart Meter Opt-Out Program”).

— R.A. Dyer