Here’s the latest on electricity smart meters

Americans are confused and worried about the installation of smart electric meters. Some believe the meters result in higher bills. In North Texas, where Watchdog Nation founder Dave Lieber lives, Oncor Electric Delivery denies that.

The Watchdog is on the case. Here’s the latest.

Dave Lieber of watchdognation.com explores the controversy over smart meters.

Remember that Oncor maintains the power lines and installs the new meters. Your electricity provider handles your billing.

Installation update

Almost 1 million new meters have been installed in Oncor’s service area. That’s about one-third of the more than 3 million residences and businesses that will receive them by 2013, the Public Utility Commission of Texas says.

The PUC hired a company to test the meters, and that continues. So far, 1,400 meters have been tested “and all were found to be accurate,” according to the PUC.

Oncor has acknowledged that 1,800 customers’ meter readings were in error, but the company blames human error during conversion to the new meters. It says the meters themselves are fine.

Meanwhile, in California, Pacific Gas and Electric has admitted that there were 43,000 cases in which smart meters had problems, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

“The utility found 23,000 meters that were installed improperly, 11,376 that failed to retain consumer usage information and 9,000 that had trouble connecting with the wireless network,” the paper reported. The utility said that only “a few” customers received inaccurate bills.

Turns out that the meters that were installed incorrectly were gas meters and that the “vast majority” of those customers got inaccurate bills, the paper reported.

California state officials, like those in Texas, continue investigating.

Installation difficulties

Thanks to Melodi and George Faris of Fort Worth for teaching me two important facts about smart-meter installations.

First, Oncor can enter your back yard to install the meters without your permission.

Second, during the installation, the power to your home will go off for several minutes.

Melodi Faris told me how she watched an Oncor installer climb over their wrought iron gate, then push a button that opened the gate to her driveway. When Melodi Faris confronted the installer, he denied climbing the fence. He said he reached through the gate and pushed the button. She measured the distance and told me that’s not possible.

After the power went off, the family’s phones went dead. Permanently.

They filed a claim with Oncor for the replacement cost, but it was denied. Oncor stated in a letter that it is not responsible for “voltage fluctuations or electrical interruptions.”

An Oncor spokeswoman told me that proper installation procedures were followed. Oncor left a notice on the front door that it would be doing work, and the installer knocked before entering the property. No one answered.

As for jumping the fence, she said, “In normal circumstances, he would use a ladder.”

Power goes off “no more than a minute or two,” she said.

“Every person should have protection for their appliances,” she added. “Surge protectors. That’s what we recommend.”

Website problems

A new website — www.SmartMeterTexas.com — is supposed to let customers with smart meters manage electric usage.

Greg McKinney of Arlington, who works on websites for a bank, says he cannot get the site to work for the new smart meter at his home.

“It’s as though they didn’t test the test before rolling it out,” he says.

He wrote to me: “Dave, I don’t know what you can do here, but it’s frustrating that with electricity deregulation, I’m supposed to educate myself about electricity usage. And the very tools that the PUC puts out there” don’t work.

The PUC tells me the site is operated by Oncor and other transmission and distribution utilities. Users must have smart meters for about a month or two before the site will work.

So far, 2,000 electric customers have enrolled, the PUC reports.

Doing the right thing

Donald Martin of Fort Worth is trying to do the right thing. He says he tallies his kilowatt-hour usage by looking at his smart meter every day.

“When I received my last bill, I compared their current meter reading to my recorded reading,” he wrote. “Their reading was 37 kWh more than my observation.”

He called TXU Energy, his retail provider, but says he couldn’t communicate with the rep and got frustrated.

The Watchdog contacted TXU. A spokeswoman listened to the tapes of his calls.

“He was really upset ….,” she told me. “He did not let us help him.”

Meanwhile, an Oncor spokeswoman told me that Martin’s problem was that his bill stated his meter was read on May 12, but the actual reading occurred on May 13, hence the difference in usage.

“We have two business days to get in there around that time to actually read the meter,” she said. “We read it the next day. Sometimes that happens. We try to stick to the schedule. We read so many meters in a day that this might happen.”

She also taught me — and you — a new trick to get better service from Oncor. Each city has an Oncor community manager. The managers’ phone numbers and e-mail addresses are listed on Oncor’s website.

Here’s how to find it: Go to oncor.com and look for the Community tab on the upper-right corner. On the drop-down menu click on Community and Customer Relations. On the left side, click on Local Contacts, then find your city and the local area manager.

“That’s something you can do if you don’t feel satisfied,” the Oncor spokeswoman says.

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Read Dave Lieber’s previous post about how Smart meters are becoming urban legends.

Read an earlier Dave Lieber post about how Oncor doesn’t have a sufficient emergency alert system for its customers.

Read the Dave Lieber post about how to fight your electric company.

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Read Texas PUC Chairman Barry Smitherman’s presentation to a Texas legislative committee in May 2010 here.

The latest PUC news release about independent smart meter testing is here.

Here is the complete rule for Texans about smart meters from the PUC.

This is the smart meter website that the state offers Texans to measure their usage. This is the PUC announcement about the site.

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Dave Lieber, The Watchdog columnist for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is the founder of Watchdog Nation. The new 2010 edition of his book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, is out. Revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards in 2009 for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation book won two national awards for social change.

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Comments

  1. Our neighbor got a smart meter but we refuse it. Now we notice a lot of our breaker being flip is that the reason it;'s happening. their meter is across from ours

  2. I'd put that question to an electrician. Call one and ask. Then call another and ask. See if they agree. Watchdog Nation motto: "Ask a bunch of questions."