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The "smart" meters cometh

By J.J. Jackson
web posted April 4, 2011

If you want something to appear beneficial usually you just have to add certain adjectives to accomplish that feat.  Tired of your old laundry detergent?  Try the "new and improved", "eco-friendly," version that will give you "whiter whites"!  You want someone to not know what you are really up to but do not want to technically lie to them either?  Just adapt words and even invent new phrases. Hey, you see those troops over there?  They are not at war.  They are part of a "kinetic military action"!  Liberals are not socialist, they are "progressive"!  Abortion is not murder; it is a "choice"!

It gets so silly after a while that you just have to laugh.

There has been a push over the past couple years to implement something called "smart" meters around the United States.  "Smart" meters - oh those sure do sound fancy don't they?

These "smart" meters, are not really "smart" though.  Just like the "smart" car is still dumber than my dog who finds his own poop a fanciful feast.  However by adding the word "smart" to the word meter it sure makes it sound that much more impressive doesn't it?

"Smart" meters are designed to replace that old electric meter hanging on the side of your home which the electric company comes by and reads every now and again to tell you how much money you owe them.  And while these little devices have been being rolled out in very select markets, as of late there seems to be a mad rush by utility companies to get these bad boys installed.

The other week I got a cute little notice from Duquesne Light, my electrical provider here in Pittsburgh, promoting a new pilot program to get ready for the roll out of "smart" meters in the area.  These meters are supposed to give consumers valuable information about how much electricity they are using during the course of the day.  Since electricity usage fluctuates over the course of the day, these meters are designed to help people know when they are using power during peak consumption times.  During these times, by the way, is when electricity tends to get more expensive to produce since power plants have to kick on less efficient, smaller, booster stations to compensate for demand.  Because of this little economic fact, utility companies like Duquesne Light want to start charging different rates for electricity during different hours of the day.  Charging different rates depending on demand is something that I have no real qualm with.

Here's the kicker though.  These smart meters, according to Duquesne Light are not going to be available during the pilot program.  Nope.  Instead, people who sign up for the test will be able to access real time data about their usage over the course of the day on a special website.  Uh, ok, so what is the point of running around and installing "smart" meters then exactly?  I mean, if this information can already be gathered and seen without the "smart" meters, why spend oodles of dollars buying smart meters and paying people to go out and install them?

Hmmm.  Something, met thinks, smells fishy here.

Tiered pricing, according to the pamphlet, will begin sometime around June, July or August of 2012.

Now, as of right now, I can go to Duquesne Light's website and look at my day to day usage of electricity.  I doubt that Duquesne Light has someone driving by my house every day to collect this data and I don't have a "smart" meter installed.  Hmm.  So if Duquesne Light can already monitor my daily electrical usage without a "smart" meter why can't they just change the reporting period to hourly?  This is a pretty simple thing to do since the data is obviously already being collected once day or 28 to 31 times a month.  How hard would it be to adjust the data collection rate to 672 times (once an hour for 28 day month) to 744 times (once an hour to for a 31 day month)?  Are you telling me that Duquesne Light stupidly last bought pieces of equipment that could not be adjusted to accomplish such a simple task?

So, you can see here that I am having a hard time understanding what the purpose of these supposed "smart" meters is going to be as opposed to the current, I guess, "dumb" meter I have already installed.  I understand the concept of Duquesne Light, and other electricity service providers, considering charging more for their product during peak demand times.  Like I said already, that makes economic sense.  But I still cannot understand why we need these "smart" meters to accomplish this.  Again, if my current "dumb" meter can already telling the power company my consumption on a daily basis, then why can't it do so on an hourly basis?

There must be another reason why Duquesne Light is pimping smart meters in the Pittsburgh area.  Just like there must be a reason why other suppliers are pushing them elsewhere around the country.  Again, government grants perhaps?  Well in the past they sure have been!  In fact, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu touted how two million "smart meters" [1] where installed as of August 31, 2010 thanks to the Recovery Act.  You remember that government handout right?  The one where signs mysteriously popped up overnight along highways already being worked on, and even some which had been completed, telling us how our federal dollars were now at work and where liberals spent hundreds of billions of tax dollars we did not have?

But is that all?  Is it just a rush to spend free "Obama Money"?

Well it does not take long to find out what "Smart" meters are capable of.  At the very basic level they allow two-way communication between the supplier and the meter.  This communication also enables other features which, not surprisingly, allows electric suppliers to remotely turn off a customer's power [2].  While that is good for nailing deadbeats who do not pay their bills, what else could it be used for?  Could it be used to punish customers who refuse to cut back during peak times and who buck the system or even government nudging to reduce power consumption?  Sure it could. 

The last thing I really want is someone, sitting in a remote room somewhere, deciding if and when I have used too much.  While some would chalk up such fear on my part to paranoia, I would like to remind those foolish enough to do so that over the past century many, many things people feared government and their agents might indeed do to strip us of our liberties have indeed come to pass.  Not all, but many.

I would really like to keep my current, "dumb" meter if you do not mind. ESR

Footnotes:

[1] http://blog.energy.gov/blog/2010/08/31/2-million-smart-meters-and-counting
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smart_meter

J.J. Jackson is a libertarian conservative author from Pittsburgh, PA who has been writing and promoting individual liberty since 1993 and is President of Land of the Free Studios, Inc. He is the Pittsburgh Conservative Examiner for Examiner.com.  He is also the owner of The Right Things - Conservative T-shirts & Gifts. His weekly commentary along with exclusives not available anywhere else can be found at http://www.libertyreborn.com.

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