Smart meter reluctance is taking a new dimension

by / Monday, 03 December 2012 / Published in Smartgrid-CI Blog

10,000 NV Energy customers want to opt out of smart meters. Are utilities ready to face a bigger wave of rejection?

Nevada PUC just accepted an opt-out fee program proposed last week by NV Energy for the customers in its territory who want smart meters not to be installed in their home. Each customer who wants to opt out will have to pay a $10 monthly fee. At first, this program is not so different from what many other utilities are already offering elsewhere. What is new is that NV Energy expects that 10,000customers in its territory will ask to opt out. This is a very small proportion of the 1.3 million meters the utility has already installed but a big number compared to what was experienced by most utilities so far. And maybe it is only a beginning. 
Resistance to smart meters has taken big proportions in other places too.  In Canada, BC Hydro has taken a big hit when in September British Columbia Human Right Tribunal accepted a complaint from human right groups who were claiming that the installation of BC’s smart meter was discriminating against people with hypersensitivity to radiations or other disabilities. In Texas, smart meteropposition is growing and the legislator is listening.

These stories tell us that the fight against smart meters is becoming more diversified, subtle and sophisticated. Smart meter opponents not only dispute smart meters for matters of privacy protection or because they think the technology represents a health hazard but also question their economic value as it is the case with the reportrecently published by the National Institute for Science, Law & PublicPolicy (NISLAPP), an organization we had barely heard about before.
Part of the issue is the little communication utilities have been providing on the positive pay back and on other advantages of smart meters. According to Pegasus News: “Since the spring, Oncor, a Dallas-based utility, has responded to more than 2,500 outages without customers even reporting the problem, according to Catherine Cuellar, a spokeswoman for the utility. Oncor has also slashed its cost to connect service to $3.20 from about $15 under the old meters, according to the PUC.” Did Oncor ever communicate about these results directly to its customers?
No doubt opposition to smart meters is here to stay. One the one hand, opponents’ success will encourage more opponents to come out and express their rejection. On the other hand, consumer awareness to the smart grid is still very low, as revealed by a recent survey.
No doubt growing awareness in the future will come with growing hostility. This poses a threat to utilities and to smart meters deployment and could potentially cost them a lot of money. The least we can say is that most utilities have been quite passive so far.  One issue maybe that smart meter rejection bears an irrational dimension. This dimension was very nicely exposed by eMeter’s Chris King in a recent column.
Dealing with the irrational is not easy. There are a few things though utilities can do to prevent bigger damage. They should be more proactive in putting together their response to this new trend.  They should act beyond simple communication in making sure they create a consensus with their customers on smart meters. Education in this matter cannot be limited to informing stakeholders about the advantages of smart grid and smart meters only. In order to understand what the smart grid is about, customers need to be informed about what the whole challenge of clean energy and energy efficiency is, including in its financial, social and political dimensions. Smart meters should be considered only one piece of the utilities’ strategy to face the energy revolution the whole world is entering.  Utilities are the most legitimate to educate customers about what is at stake because they are very local and they have a long standing direct connection with them based on trust. Most utilities do not leverage this dimension enough. Dealing with 10,000 opt out customers is manageable, having to cope with 100,000 is much less so. And an opposition of this magnitude can happen very fast, no matter what.

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