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Dallas’s Smart Power Meter Problem

This article was written by in Consumer. 17 comments.


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.

Published or updated March 5, 2010. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Smithee formerly lived primarily on credit cards and the good will of his friends. He is a newbie to personal finance but quickly learning from his past mistakes. You can follow him on Twitter, where his user name is @SmitheeConsumer. View all articles by .

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Yana

Beware of things that are marketed as “smart”, whether it is a smart meter, a Smart car or (heart?) smart food. I’ve lived in the same apartment complex since 1985, and my gas & electric usage has been about the same from year to year. The energy efficiency and relatively low costs have been huge pluses and another reason to stay. Alas, we got smart meters and our bills doubled. The usage measures 35% more, but puts us into another tier that charges a higher rate for kw hours etc. At the same time, our gas bill was literally 0. Usually it is a couple dollars because I cook every day with gas. When complaining, I mentioned that everything about the billing was wrong including being charged nothing for gas. The explanation I got from PG&E is that the meters have been wrong – and apparently, this means they have been wrong for 25 years. Hmmm. They weren’t so old 25 years ago. I’d like to go back to stupid meters, unSmart cars that provide a level of safety, and real food chosen by my own standards and not a marketer’s. There is nothing we can do about the utility company and its outrageous billing but pay the bill. Weird how so many times the customer is a servant and underling to the business, government, medical/insurance industries or whomever successfully demands our money. Money is said to be power, the market should decide and all that, but I don’t see that happening.

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avatar jim

Sounds like a pretty screwed up situation.

I bet you that 1-10% of those complaints are valid and 90-99% of the complaints are totally wrong. If someone sees that the utility installed a new meter and their bill goes up then a lot of people will automatically assume the meter made their rates go up. Never mind that they used a lot more electricity for one reason or another.

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avatar Linda Wilson

Wrong!! After the meter was installded and we got our first bill which doubled I knew somethging was wrong. So I had the workers turn off the heat and anything unnecessary for a month and see what happened. I did periodic checks and took pictures. We used propane heaters instead. The next month it went from $1,025.00, the next month it went to $2,507 and now it is up to 3,073. We pay more for electricity than we do rent. We have been in that shop for 12 years and have never had a bill over $1,000 dollars. I never even asked for the meter to be installed.

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avatar jim

Linda, Well it sounds like your meter is faulty or installed improperly. I didn’t say that there weren’t faulty meters. I said “I bet you that 1-10% of those complaints are valid and 90-99% of the complaints are totally wrong” Which is totally just my opinion based on nothing more than my personal assumptions. But if your meter is faulty then that does not mean my opinion is wrong or refuted. I’d count you in that “1-10%” of the complaints that are valid. Even if 1 in 100 people have faulty meters then thats obviously a problem. But trust me theres a LOT of complaints that are not due to faulty meters, but confused consumers.

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avatar chris

This is a very timely article for me…I received a letter from the electric company – Southern Califiornia Edison. They are notified us that they are “…investing in a smarter, cleaner, more efficient energy grid. As a part of our efforts, during the next few weeks SCE or Corix, our authorized contractor will be in your area to install a new Edison SmartConnect electric meter.” Crap….I know now, that this does not portend well. Thanks for the head’s up!

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avatar Bucksome Boomer

We got a smart meter installed recently and my first bill using this technology was not noticeably different than the previous month.

The big problem here was that they didn’t give people much notice of the installation and the power was briefly disconnected. I guess some people had things not automatically restart that were programmed or running.

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avatar steveDH

We had a dumb meter changed out with another dumb meter about 6 years ago, when we did some pretty massive electrical work on our home. Sure enough, our bill increased but not excessively (~$6.00 or about 8%). I guess it is possible that the old meter was running slow after the first 25 years. Last year they installed a “smart” meter. The good news is our bill didn’t change coincident with the added “smarts” – but I miss the old dumb meter – it would have been almost $500 cheaper over the 6+ years. ;-)

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avatar Madrid Mike

never trust any power company. Hence, the name. Power Company. They have the power to do whatever they want to you. I was away in Europe years ago and unplugged everything. Including my refrigerator. The power company ordered my landlord to open the area the meters were stored in, cut the locks on them and took all day testing my meter, zapping my system, i.e. costing me money for no reason and never told me they also in the end replaced the meter. I called the company on this and they were in disbelief that I was not tampering with the meter. Their response was “nobody can afford to go to Europe that long and why/how were you able to unplug your refrigerator?” The best part of the story is my usage was about 20-25 bucks a month with an additional 12 bucks for taxes and “fees”. You see what these people will do for 20 dollars. My landlord also told me that they were hell bent on finding something wrong……pathetic.

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avatar Holly

They have you right where they want you…you pay for the new technology (that’s supposed to help you to be an educated consumer by saving $ and energy), and then you pay for somehow mysteriously using much more electricity, even though your habits have remained consistent for years. These are unethical business practices and should be investigated immediately.

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avatar jojo

we just got the notice too.
The plain, blunt truth is that Edison (in our case) has monopoly power over us.
Amerika is today defined by predatory capitalism and outright theft of “consumers” money.
This is just another corporat outrage

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avatar Dan

Ha!

I’d rather be dumb and ignorant with a cheaper bill than smart and education with a more expensive bill.

My apartment is totally electric — no gas. My electric bill averages about $70 in the fall and spring (no a/c or heat) $90 in the summer months (can creep over $100 in the hottest month) and a whopping $180 in the winter months when I have to run the heat!

If a smart meter ever pushes my current place close to a $400 bill, I’ll be the next guy in the newspapers with his “civil disobedience” er, headline.

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avatar dePriest

They’ve just found a ‘smart’ way to dig further into your pockets! I hope to goodness they don’t come our way.

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avatar J-Train

Let me pose this question to those of you whose bills went up exponentially after the smart meter was installed: If the power company had prior to installing the new smart meter tested your old analog meter and found that it was running slower causing you to be charged for less KW than you were actually using and back billed you and installed the new meter in its place would you still be questioning the new meter? I am just curious! I dont have the new meter yet as it is scheduled to hit my area later this year but I know for a fact that the above described problem does exist! I truly hope this is not the case when mine is installed, sometimes I feel as though they are already double charging me anyway!

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avatar Bryan

I have been in a 425 sqft apartment for several years now, and my energy usage during peak summer months is usually around 50-60 dollars. I have over the past couple of months been receiving electricity bills around $278. The Power Company tells me that heaters use 3x the power of Air Conditioners (as their way of explaining the spike), but I checked the meter outside and was greeted with a new digital face. This is all news to me, and I’m trying to figure out where to go from here. I have better things to do than pay my electric company 4-5x what I should, but switching providers won’t do any good if the issue is the meter. Advice?

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avatar ben elizando

The new power meters are definitely more accurate than your 30 year old analog meter that has been running slow for 20 years due to gunky bearings. Also, the old power meters could not accurately meter “non-linear loads”, like computer power supplies and flourescent lights. In fact, flourescent bulbs’ cost savings claims are attributed partly to the old power meters’ inability to read them accurately. Good times!

Power companies justify rate increases partly to compensate for aging residential power meters. Of course, don’t expect them to adjust the rate lower to compensate for the new meter accuracy. Expect a huge push this summer to buy “radiant barrier” for your attic- The new meters being the motivation. Radiant barrier is …largely a con; thats why they include insulation for “free” (so you will notice some improvement).

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avatar LinemanSteve

A qualified licensed electrician can install a device to measure your usage. The results can be used to check against the smart meter ( or any electric meter ) and give you real information on the accuracy of your bill. You are billed by kilowatt hours so you need to make sure the information you get is in that format

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avatar joe Blow

Reminds me of the time our state finally relinquished and did away with the five dollar a year safety inspection sticker. So what did the state do next? Raised automobile tags six dollars….

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