I wrote last November about a rollout in my city to upgrade everybody’s power meters to the “smart” kind which should allow the power companies to operate and communicate remotely with our electricity. They should also enable us consumers to have more data about which devices in the house waste the most energy.
It appears that in the first month after some people got upgraded, their electric bills went up much higher than normal, in some cases twice as much as the previous month. I heard reports on the radio of electric bills up to $500 or $1,000.
Oncor, the company who is foisting the new meters on us, has offered a few different explanations and initially denied that there was anything faulty with the meters:
- people are using more electricity due to record cold temperatures
- the old meters were actually running too slowly, and the new meters are more accurate
- 75% of the people complaining about higher bills don’t even have the new meters yet
- Oncor has tested thousands of meters and hasn’t found a fault in any of them
- sometimes when the installer reads the old meter, he/she makes a mistake
Yesterday the Texas Public Utility Commission agreed to hire a third-party tester to see if they can find any problems. The hilarious-but-not-really part about that is:
Eventually, the commission might hike electric delivery rates for all consumers to pay for the program.
So, we’re paying $2.12 per month for eleven years for the new meters, we’re paying higher rates, and we might be paying to find out if the higher rates are fake or not.
Proper customer service rules dictate that if your customers are surprised with bills at a rate twice as high or more, you refund the money and immediately investigate the obvious problem, at your own expense. Other cities with smart meters have seen similar complaints, and I’m anxious to see how this turns out. I don’t have a smart meter yet, though I am helping to foot the bill at $2.12 a month. At the very least, in a truly free market, people would be able to pick a meter style, or pick an energy company that offered a different choice. But for the time being, we’re stuck.
Updated June 23, 2016 and originally published March 5, 2010.