Independent Smart Meter Review is Now Needed

It has been almost seven years since the controversial vote by the City Commission that approved one of the most expensive projects in the history of the City of Tallahassee –smart meters. The money spent on the smart meter project falls in a range between $50 and $80 million depending on what part of the projects are included.

Honeywell sold the project as a game changing project that when fully implemented would make the electric grid more efficient, save utility customers money and defer the need for more power plants.
But there have been problems and almost seven years after the vote the program is not fully implemented and is not working as promised.

First the thermostats trumpeted as a way for customers to monitor their energy usage and ultimately conserve energy are not yet available.

Second, there are major problems with the water smart-meters – they do not work. After a contentious battle between the City and the vendor a new agreement was signed requiring the vendor to make things right.
And finally, time-of-use rates, which is a major part of how smart meters are supposed to save money and conserve energy, appears to be seriously behind the projections Honeywell used to sell the program to the City.

For example, the analysis provided by Honeywell indicated that 25,000 customers would have to sign-up for a program that charged higher rates for electricity at high-use times. It was projected that these customers, due to the pricing structure, would cut their electric use by 4.5%.

So far the City’s program, Nights and Weekends, has approximately 4000 users. Based on Honeywell data, this level of participation does not make the program cost-effective – in other words smart meters are costing us millions!

This is not happening just in Tallahassee. Information from around the country is beginning to indicate that time-of-use-rates are not working as advertised.

In August 2013, Rhode Island Public Utility Commissioner Paul J. Roberti told a reporter that smart meters don’t come close to justifying their costs and represent a misguided attempt to modify the behavior of consumers in ways that don’t conform to the real world.

In a letter in early 2012 to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities Commission a lawyer from Massachusetts then Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office pointed to large-scale tests in Illinois and elsewhere in which the meters failed to justify their costs.

Even some political figures have opposed the meters or tried to moderate the terms of their installation. Connecticut’s attorney general, George Jepsen, opposed a plan in his state by saying a pilot test “showed no beneficial impact on total energy usage.” The state’s energy regulators shelved the plan.

And in some states like, Maine and Vermont, laws are in place making it easier for consumers to opt out of smart meter programs and keep old meters.

Despite these concerns and questions, deployment of smart meters across the country continues.

But why?

Consumer Reports has written that given the corporate forces arrayed supporting the program, national smart-meter implementation is “all but a given.”

It is one thing for private investor owned utilities, who routinely influence Utility Commissions across the country through the appointment process and future employment promises, to push smart meters on there customers, but it is quit another for a municipal utility to follow suit. If this is the case we might as well sell out to Gulf Power!

What is going on with “your own utility”? It is time to find out.

In 2010, candidate for City Commission Nancy Miller told Tallahassee Reports that “I support an independent review of electric rates by a qualified consumer advocate who is experienced in the field of electric generation and well-versed in the science of rate making. The supply of electricity is a critical element of our local economy and must be carefully managed.”

It is time for Commissioner Miller to keep her campaign promise and ask for an independent review of electric rates and find out just what happened with the million dollar promises of the smart-meter program.

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