The website, SmartMeterTexas.com, is currently operated by a coalition of transmission and distribution utilities. Those monopoly utilities — with the support of retail electric providers — want the state’s grid operator to take over.
But in filings at the Texas Public Utility Commission, the organization that manages the grid, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, say they’re currently not equipped to manage the website. ERCOT foresees a number of technical and financial challenges.
Although Smart Meter Texas has been around for several years, relatively few Texans have accessed the site and even fewer have made use of its capabilities. Some consumer advocates also have raised privacy concerns regarding potential third-party access to website data.
But in theory, SmartMeterTexas.com can help Texans save money by providing them detailed information about their individual electricity consumption. The website works in conjunction with advanced digital meters that have been installed at 7 million homes and businesses throughout the state.
The coalition of monopoly transmission and distribution utilities that currently operates Smart Meter Texas includes Oncor Electric in Dallas and CenterPoint Energy in Houston. The utilities also have responsibility for the distribution of digital smart meters at homes and businesses in their areas.
In recent filings at the PUC, that utility coalition as well as a separate coalition of retail electric providers appeared to be in agreement that ERCOT should take over the website.
“ERCOT is the most logical entity to own, operate, budget, and fund the common portal moving forward,” wrote the REP coalition.
“The joint (transmission and distribution utilities) encourage a transfer of the ownership and/or operation of (Smart Meter Texas) to ERCOT,” wrote the utility coalition.
But the grid operator says that the proposed transfer requires more study, and that existing problems with the website should be addressed first. For the moment, they don’t want it.
“ERCOT’s current systems and corresponding protocols are not currently designed to undertake ownership and/or operation of a joint portal,” ERCOT stated in regulatory filings.
By plugging meter-specific information into the Smart Meter Texas website, consumers can track their electricity usage on a monthly or daily basis, or even in 15-minute intervals. The website also allows Texans to make use of energy-saving “Home Area Network” devices — such as smart thermostats and smart appliances — that work with digital smart meters.
An energy efficiency trade group, the South-Central Partnership for Energy Efficiency as a Resource, has called Smart Meter Texas a “major step in the right direction” toward creating a more efficient grid. But it also acknowledges that the public’s usage of the site is extremely low — and has even dropped in recent years.
In a July report, the group found that only 60,000 customers have ever logged onto Smart Meter Texas. That’s less than one percent of the Texans eligible to use the site.
The trade group also found that Texans had connected fewer than 12,000 high-tech “Home Area Network” energy savings devices to the website. That’s less than 1 HAN device for every 540 smart meters deployed in Texas, according to the organization.
The deployment of smart meters in Texas also has not been without controversy. Texans are paying surcharges of $2 and $3 per month for the meters, although they have not received much by the way of savings in return. Also, a number of Texans have very vocally expressed privacy and health concerns about the meters.
The state’s major transmission and distribution utilities have spent millions of dollars on grid education since 2007 — but that spending ended in 2012, according to the South-Central Partnership for Energy Efficiency as a Resource. “And some of this (pre-2012) spending was just to overcome negative perceptions of smart meters,” wrote the trade group.
Utilities have defended the meters as safe and say they allow for more efficient management of the electricity distribution system. Utilities also say the meters have led to a decrease in average disconnection and reconnection fees.