Texas Smart Meter Installations Spread to Galveston County

Tuesday March 13, 2012
Posted at 08:43

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If you live in Galveston County, Texas and you see someone in your yard wearing a black uniform and a black helmet with a face shield, don’t be frightened. You’re just getting a new Smart Meter.

CenterPoint Energy, the public utility that distributes electricity to homes in the Houston and Galveston areas of Texas, recently launched a digital Smart Meter upgrade program in Galveston County, including Galveston, Jamaica Beach, Santa Fe, Hitchcock, Bayou Vista, and parts of League City and La Marque.

The black-clad workers are employees of North Houston Pole Line, a contractor that’s handling the meter installations for CenterPoint. They should knock on your door to let you know they’re there before they go around back and install the meters, but if they don’t get an answer, they’ll go ahead and install the meter anyway.

In case you don’t hear them, you arrive home when they’re already at work or you just want to double-check their bona fides, all workers’ uniforms will have a company ID badge. You can even check out front for a North Houston Pole Line company vehicle.

The wireless Smart Meters that CenterPoint is installing will allow the utility to “talk” directly with your meter to get remote updates on your electricity usage. That means no more meter readers. The Smart Meters also let CenterPoint turn on and off power remotely in cases where electricity service is being set up or discontinued, which can be a big convenience if you’re moving.

Once the installer gets to work, it should only take about 10 minutes to complete the installation.

The Smart Meter installation program is scheduled to be completed by the end of March.

Sources

CenterPoint Energy Replacing its Meters,” The Galveston County Daily News, Jan. 27, 2012.

The Facts About Smart Meter Safety

Monday December 12, 2011
Posted at 11:05

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Electric utilities around the country are upgrading their aging electric grids with technology that’s designed to make electric service more reliable and more affordable for customers in the utilities’ service territories. But while many have expressed concerns about the long-term effects of smart meters, there isn’t a lot of evidence to indicate they pose a health threat.

As part of the ongoing nationwide electric grid upgrades, many utilities are replacing old electric meters with smart meters. Advanced smart meters allow for the transmission of data to utilities, such as how much electricity is being consumed, and allow the utilities to transmit back to the meters. This gives utilities the ability to quickly and conveniently perform tasks like turning on the power after a customer moves in at a residence. Additionally, smart meters mean that utilities don’t have to pay for things like meter readers, a cost savings the utilities say they can pass on to customers.

Regardless of the purported benefits of smart meters, some are pushing back against the installation of the meters, citing the supposed health risks of radio frequency (RF) energy that is emitted by all electronic devices, including wireless devices like smart meters. Electric customers and advocacy groups opposed to smart meters have said that the devices are inherently dangerous to customers’ health. They cite supposed health risks associated with all RF-emitting devices, such as cancer, and describe symptoms that some customers have reportedly said resulted from installation of smart meters, such as headaches, heart palpitations and sleep disturbances.

However, utility officials, smart meter manufacturers and proponents of the technology point out that people are exposed daily to RF energy, including low levels of naturally-occurring RF energy produced by the earth and the human body, as well as RF energy from common man-made electronic devices like cell phones and microwave ovens. Smart meter supporters also claim that everyday electronic devices typically produce far higher levels of RF energy during longer periods of exposure than smart meters. In short, they say smart meters are safer than other electronic devices that most people use every day.

So which is it? Are smart meters dangerous or are they safe? While the real question may concern the safety of wireless electronic devices in general, here are several facts about smart meter safety.

Smart Meters Are Tightly Regulated by the Federal Government

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), as required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, evaluates the effects of RF emissions from electronic devices and regulates the amount of RF energy that electronic devices — including cell phones, microwaves and smart meters — are allowed to emit. Over the years, the FCC has taken recommendations from organizations such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) and the National Council on Radiation Protection and Management (NCRP) regarding human exposure to RF energy.

Like all other communication devices, smart meters, and the amount of RF energy they are allowed to emit, are tightly regulated by the FCC.

Smart Meters Produce Very Low Levels of RF Energy

The amount of RF energy emitted by an electronic device is defined by its power density, which is measured in watts per square meter (W/m²) over a certain distance. According to the Public Utility Commission of Texas, smart meters produce far lower levels of RF energy than many other common household electronic devices, like 16 times less RF energy than a baby monitor and over 4,300 times less than a typical cell phone:

DevicePower DensityTypical Exposure Duration

Bluetooth USB Dongle

0.042 W/m² at 4 inches

Less than 1 minute

Baby Monitor

0.029 W/m² at 3 feet

8 hours

Cordless Phone Base

0.052 W/m² at 3 feet

1–30 minutes

Microwave Oven

0.0043 W/m² at 3 feet

10–60 minutes

Smart Meter

0.0018 W/m² at 10 feet

1–2 seconds

Smart Meters Do Not Continuously Emit RF Energy

Smart meters do not continuously produce a wireless signal or emit RF energy. Instead, they relay information back to a utility once every 15 minutes throughout the day. The actual signal only takes from one to two seconds to send and, according to a study by the Electric Power Research Institute, generates less than 1 percent of the FCC’s daily safe RF energy exposure limit.

FCC: No Scientific Evidence Connects RF Energy With Illnesses

According to the FCC, “some health and safety interest groups have interpreted certain reports to suggest that wireless device use may be linked to cancer and other illnesses.” However, “currently no scientific evidence establishes a causal link between wireless device use and cancer or other illnesses.”

Sources

Smart Meter Opponents Look to Legislation and Regulation,” San Anselmo–Fairfax Patch, Nov. 1, 2011.

Study: Smart Meter Radio Frequency Emissions Low,” CNET, Feb. 22, 2011.

Federal Communications Commission, “Wireless Devices and Health Concerns.”

Federal Communications Commission, Office of Engineering and Technology, “Radio Frequency Safety.”

Federal Communications Commission, Office of Engineering and Technology, “FCC Policy on Human Exposure to Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields.”

Public Utility Commission of Texas, “Smart Meter Safety.”

Illinois Ushers in Smart Grid with New Legislation

Thursday December 8, 2011
Posted at 09:13

State legislators approved rate hikes for Illinois electric customers by overriding Gov. Pat Quinn’s veto of a “smart grid” bill that funds the utilities’ investments in the state’s aging electric grid.

The override allows the state’s two largest public utilities, Commonwealth Edison Co. (ComEd) and Ameren Illinois (Ameren), to increase delivery rates to fund the upgrade of the grid without having to gain approval from the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), which regulates the state’s electric and natural gas utilities. The Senate voted 36–19 and the House voted 74–42 to override Quinn’s veto. The veto-proof supermajorities can’t be overridden.

The legislation will allow ComEd and Ameren to underwrite a planned $1.5 billion modernization of the state’s power grid, including the installation of “smart meters” in all homes and businesses in the utilities’ service territories.

The utilities had faced opposition from Quinn, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and consumer groups in the state who criticized the bill for representing little more than a money grab for the utilities and their stakeholders. Quinn vetoed the $2.6 billion measure in September because it gave the electric utilities permission to raise electric rates by a guaranteed minimum of 2.5 percent each year for the next two years and lock in a 10.25 percent yearly profit rate, with no cap. The bill provided for only minimum annual rate increases over the next decade, not maximums, Quinn said.

The bill was initially approved in May but failed to receive a veto-proof three-fifths majority in the Senate and the House.

According to ComEd and Ameren, the improved electric grid funded by the legislation will mean no more meter readers, no more having to call the electric utility when the power goes out and, when the power does go out, outages will be more localized and shorter in duration.

The statewide smart grid build out is scheduled to begin next year and take 10 years to complete. During that time, ComEd said it will charge its customers an additional $3 a month and Ameren said it will charge its customers an additional $3.40 a year.

The rate increases will affect the delivery portion of utility customers’ bills, which means all electricity customers in the utilities’ service territories will have to pay the increased rates, regardless if they buy their electricity from the utilities or from an alternative electricity supplier. Customers can help offset the rate hikes by increasing their energy efficiency and shopping around for better electricity pricing plans from suppliers like Spark Energy.

Sources

Legislature Overrides Gov. Pat Quinn's Veto to Allow Smart Grid,” Chicago Tribune, Oct. 27, 2011.

Quinn Vetoes ComEd Rate Hike,” Chicago Tribune, Sept. 12, 2011.

House OKs ComEd Hikes, but Quinn Veto Possible,” Chicago Sun-Times, May 31, 2011.

ComEd Study: Smart Meters Will Save Electric Customers $2.8 Billion

Thursday August 25, 2011
Posted at 08:13

Com Ed says smart meters will help save electricity customers billions

Commonwealth Edison Company (ComEd), one of the nation’s largest public utilities, said a recent study it commissioned found that the approximately 3.8 million electric customers it serves in northern Illinois could save $2.8 billion over 20 years if the utility installed smart meters throughout its service territory.

The study, which ended May 31, was performed by third-party consultant Black & Veatch and evaluated a one-year smart meter pilot program approved by the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), the agency that regulates public utilities in the state. ComEd, which paid for the study under the terms of the pilot program, used Black & Veatch to analyze a smart meter test rollout to 121,000 electric customers on Chicago’s West Side and near-West suburbs.

According to the consultancy’s study, the $2.8 billion that customers would save off electric bills over the smart meters’ 20-year lifespan would come from several key operational improvements:

  • The virtual elimination of manual meter reading (ComEd noted that employees affected by this change would be transitioned to other areas of the company)
  • More accurate electric bills
  • Fewer service visits and fewer calls to the electric utility’s Customer Call Center
  • An enhanced ability to efficiently disconnect and reconnect electric service, which minimizes collection costs
  • The improved detection of electricity theft
  • Faster, more efficient sign-up of new customers

ComEd said that the estimate of $2.8 billon in savings would come on top of any savings that electric customers secured for themselves by using the real-time electricity consumption information provided by smart meters to change the way they used electricity in their homes and businesses.

Funding for Smart Meter Plan Debated Over Questions of Cost, Oversight

The public utility said that the amount of money that electric customers could save by having a modern grid equipped with smart meters would more than offset the potential cost that electric customers would have to pay for the installation of millions of smart meters.

However, the cost of ComEd’s plan to upgrade the grid in its service territory with smart meters has been a point of heated debate and has prevented the utility from moving forward with its plans.

The smart meter pilot program itself suffered a blow when an Illinois Appellate Court in October 2010 put an end to the utility’s method of recovering costs for the installation of the 121,000 devices. The court ruled that the ICC had made a mistake when it allowed ComEd to charge all of its northern Illinois customers for the pilot program instead of just those who actually received smart meters. ComEd has appealed the ruling.

In May, the Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act (SB 1652), which would allow ComEd to recoup its multi-billion investment in modernizing the grid by granting it the ability to increase revenue from electric customers, was passed by both chambers of the General Assembly. ComEd said that the bill “would authorize a multi-billion [dollar] investment in modernizing Illinois’ electric grid while maintaining strict regulatory oversight and consumer protections.”

However, Gov. Pat Quinn said he would veto the bill. Quinn said that he believed the $2.6 billion in infrastructure improvements that ComEd sought would allow the state’s electric utilities to place increased annual profits over the interests of consumers and businesses. “It is really about locking in guaranteed, significant annual profits for the utility companies without any real oversight by the Illinois Commerce Commission,” Quinn said.

According to Anne Pramaggiore, ComEd’s president and chief operating officer, if the bill were passed and took effect this year, installation of smart meters throughout the utility’s territory would begin next year and run through 2021 while providing immediate benefits for electric customers. “Smart meter system technology can improve service, help customers make more informed decisions about energy use, and contribute to lower energy costs,” Pramaggiore said in a statement.

“As other states are building more efficient and reliable electric grids, Illinois is in danger of falling behind,” Pramaggiore added, saying that if ComEd’s territory had already been upgraded with smart meters, the July 11 storm that struck northern Illinois would have produced fewer outages and shorter response times. Pramaggiore estimated an upgraded grid would have prevented from 100,000 to 175,000 of the more than 850,000 interruptions caused by the storm.

Sources

Smart Meters Could Save ComEd Customers $2.8 Billion,” Commonwealth Edison Company press release, Aug. 8, 2011.

ComEd: Smart Meters Could Save Customers Nearly $3 Billion,” The Herald-News, Aug. 8, 2011.

When I Switch Electric Suppliers, What Happens to My Meter?

You can change to a different electricity supplier, but your meter stays the same

When electric customers think about switching electric suppliers in order to save money on monthly electric bills, one of the questions they ask is, “what happens to my meter?”

Regardless of the type of switch — either from an electric utility to a retail electric supplier or from one retail electric supplier to another — the answer is: nothing. The meter stays right where it is, unchanged, and electric customers have nothing to worry about.

Meters are owned, operated, serviced and read by the electric utility that distributes electricity to homes (and is responsible for other equipment, such as wires, poles and transformers). Each meter is individually matched to a particular home and is not altered unless the electric utility decides to, say, repair the meter or upgrade it as part of a system-wide transition to Smart Meters.

Customers who switch electric suppliers will still contact their utility for things like outages, downed power lines or to report problems with their meters.

New Effort Helps Customers Save Energy and Save Money with Smart Meters

Tuesday July 26, 2011
Posted at 08:19

A new non-profit organization, Grid 21, has launched a national campaign to educate electric customers on how to get the most out of their smart meters. Grid 21’s mission is to encourage consumers to use smart meters and other emerging tools and technologies to better understand and manage their electric use.

Grid 21 started its Biggest Energy Saver Campaign June 13, the same day that U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that the number of smart meters installed nationwide exceeded the five million mark.

The campaign aims to educate consumers about controlling energy consumption and energy costs, give them easy ways to access and use data from smart meters and help jumpstart the market for energy management tools. The campaign will feature a customer-savings contest designed to demonstrate how information from smart meters can help people save energy and save money off monthly electric bills.

The campaign will also feature a nationwide call for developers to create applications that will allow consumers to more effectively control their home energy use. Developers will be competing for prizes totaling up to $150,000. In Texas, for example, one grand prize winner from each participating utility’s service area will be awarded a new electric vehicle, while first-place winners will be awarded a suite of GE smart appliances that can talk to smart meters and provide feedback on energy consumption.

“There have been dozens of pilot programs involving smart meters across the United States, and consistently customers have reduced their energy usage and controlled their costs. Now the time has come to move beyond pilot programs and into full implementation because customers deserve it,” said Steve Hauser, Executive Director of Grid 21.

“Customers are the most important component of any business and what electric utility customers are telling us is that they want the ability to better manage their energy consumption and cost,” Hauser said. “The Biggest Energy Saver will introduce tools and capabilities to customers who can then use them for the contest and in their daily lives.”

The Biggest Energy Saver contest will run this summer. More information, including contest rules and registration, will be available beginning mid-July on the Biggest Energy Saver website, www.BiggestEnergySaver.com. The website also offers information on how to use smart meters to save energy and save money.

Founding partners of Grid 21’s Biggest Energy Saver Campaign include Texas-based utilities Oncor and CenterPoint Energy, California-based utility San Diego Gas & Electric, Itron and Landis+Gyr. IBM is also collaborating with Grid 21 on the campaign.

Texas and California are the largest smart meter markets in the country. Of the five million smart meters currently installed nationwide, over three million of them are in Texas. And in May, San Diego Gas & Electric completed a rollout of smart meters to all of its residential customers. By the end of 2012, more than 20 million smart meters are expected to be installed in California and Texas alone.

Sources

Technology Companies and Utilities Launch Campaign to Spur Innovation and Empower Customers,” CenterPoint Energy press release, June 13, 2011.

Saving Energy with Over 5 Million Smart Meters

Friday July 8, 2011
Posted at 08:15

Smart meters are being installed nationwide

More than five million smart meters have been installed nationwide as part of a federal effort to modernize the country’s aging electric grid, according to an announcement by U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

At a White House Grid Modernization event June 13, Chu said that the smart meter initiative will provide electric companies and consumers with more information about how electricity is used. The devices will give the utilities greater details about electric use in their service areas and will provide electric customers real-time data about their electricity consumption that will allow them to make informed decisions about how and when they use electricity in order to save energy and save money off electric bills.

As a result, a modern electric grid equipped with smart meters will “give consumers choices and promote energy savings, increase energy efficiency, and foster the growth of renewable energy resources,” Chu said.

Of the more than five million smart meters that have been installed by electric companies, nearly 90 percent of them have been installed in Florida, Texas, California, Idaho, Arizona, Oklahoma, Michigan and Nevada.

Along with the smart meter milestone, the Department of Energy announced plans to create a nationwide data map of electric use built from information contributed by electric customers. The map is expected to help electric customers further understand their electricity use and make energy- and money-saving decisions.

Sources

Energy Secretary Chu Announces Five Million Smart Meters Installed Nationwide as Part of Grid Modernization Effort,” U.S. Department of Energy press release, June 13, 2011.

Smart Meters Receive Clean Bill of Health

Monday April 18, 2011
Posted at 08:17

Smart meters evaluated for safety in CaliforniaPublic health concerns over SmartMeters have been largely dismissed by an independent report that found the wireless devices, which transmit consumers’ electricity usage data to utilities in real-time, are no more harmful than other common household electronic devices.

According to the 50-page report by the California Council on Science and Technology, “Health Impacts of Radio Frequency from Smart Meters,” when the meters are properly installed and maintained, SmartMeters “result in much smaller levels of radio frequency (RF) exposure than many existing common household electronic devices, particularly cell phones and microwave ovens.”

The news may come as a welcome relief to some electric providers, like California’s PG&E, that have met growing resistance to the installation of the meters. PG&E’s SmartMeters — not to be confused with “smart meters,” which is the generic term for the devices — have been criticized over health problems reportedly caused by the wireless signals that the meters use to transmit data.

The utility has encountered especially strong opposition to SmartMeters in the Bay Area, where residents and activists routinely question the safety of the meters and were largely skeptical of the conclusions drawn by the CCST report.

“People are really getting sick — we're getting all kinds of anecdotal reports about sleep problems, nausea, headaches and ringing in the ears,” said Sandi Maurer, co-founder of the EMF Safety Network and a Sebastopal resident, in an interview. “This report simply says that there's no proof. That's not reassuring.”

Smart Meter Health Concern Threatens National Rollout

Opposition to smart meters may be a problem for state utilities, but it’s also a problem for the federal government, which is encouraging a national rollout of the devices as part of an ambitious plan to upgrade the country’s electric grid and transform it into an energy-saving “smart grid” by 2030.

Under the government’s plan, which the U.S. Department of Energy developed under the George W. Bush administration and outlined in a 2003 report, “Grid 2030: A National Vision for Electricity’s Second 100 Years,” the nationwide smart grid will be a modern, integrated, and energy-efficient engineering achievement costing hundreds of billions of dollars and will function as an “electric superhighway to support our information superhighway.”

According the Energy Department, the smart grid will allow “electricity and information flowing together in real time, near-zero economic losses from outages and power quality disturbances, a wider array of customized energy choices, suppliers competing in open markets to provide the world’s best electric services, and all of this supported by a new energy infrastructure built on superconductivity, distributed intelligence and resources, clean power, and the hydrogen economy.”

In order for the government’s smart grid to function as it was envisioned, it would need to become a “fully automated power delivery network that monitors and controls every customer and node, ensuring a two-way flow of electricity and information between the power plant and the appliance, and all points in between.”

Such a system would require potentially hundreds of millions of smart meters to operate. However, as of August, only two million smart meters had been installed across the country.

Smart Grid Could Use Hard-Wired Smart Meter Alternatives

In addition to resistance from some consumers and consumer advocates, the rollout of smart meters in California is also getting pushback in political corners. Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-Marin, has introduced legislation that would allow consumers to opt out of having the devices installed at their homes. Huffman is also calling for the development of “hard-wired” smart meters.

Huffman’s position is consistent with conclusions in the CCST report, which suggested that smart meters don’t need to rely solely on wireless technology and that hard-wired versions of the devices could be developed as alternatives for consumers.

“Whether or not you believe there are health issues, utilities should give consumers complete and accurate information regarding RF emissions from smart meters, and customers should be allowed the alternative of having a hard-wired smart meter,” Huffman said in a statement.

Sources

Study Finds No Evidence of Health Risks From SmartMeters,” San Jose Mercury News, Jan. 12, 2011.

California Council on Science and Technology, “Health Impacts of Radio Frequency From Smart Meters,” Jan. 2011.

The Edison Foundation Institute for Electric Efficiency website, “Utility-Scale Smart Meter Deployments, Plans & Proposals,” April 2010.

Secretary Chu Announces Two Million Smart Grid Meters Installed Nationwide,” U.S. Department of Energy press release, Aug. 31, 2010.

U.S. Department of Energy Office of Electricity Delivery & Energy Reliability website, “Smart Grid.”

Grid 2030: A National Vision for Electricity’s Second 100 Years,” U.S. Department of Energy, July 2003.