Smart Meter monitoring software now online

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Shown here is a real-time graph showing hourly electrical usage, now available for SCE Smart Meter customers. Graph courtesy of SCE

Opposition to Smart Meter installation grows

Southern California Edison (SCE) announced that software allowing SCE Smart Meter customers to monitor energy use and take advantage of available budget incentives is now up and running online.

Personal use and new tools
Called “Edison SmartConnect,” Idyllwild residents can find it online at www.sce.com/customerservice/smartconnect/default.htm. The tool is designed to enable users with Smart Meters to track and manage electricity costs from their computers anytime.

Smart Meter technology facilitates that monitoring because energy use is regularly relayed from home and business meters to SCE. Paradoxically, this constant monitoring is one of the facets of Smart Meter technology to which many customers object as an invasion of privacy.

Key features include “Save Power Day Incentives” for receiving alerts for when reduced power usage can build credits for customers. Currently, SCE plans to call 12 to 15 power-saving days each year. SCE will notify users one day in advance of the save power day, typically in the summer when power usage is highest. Users who reduce power between the hours of 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. will receive credits based on the amount of their power reduction.

“Budget Assistant” provides graphic tools and email, voice or text alerts to track monthly energy spending. Users can set monthly spending goals and choose to receive status updates weekly or when their projected next bill is expected to exceed the user’s set monthly goal. This feature is currently available for residential customers only on certain rate plans but will be expanded to a wider use in late 2011.

“Bill-to-Date and Projected Next Bill” provides online comparisons of energy usage to date, compared to previous bills, to allow users to adjust energy consumption and eliminate end-of-month billing surprises. “Hourly Usage Chart” provides electricity use through the previous day in hour-to-hour increments. Customers can enroll online to use these features at www.sce.com/SmartTools.

Opposition to Smart Meters
Resistance to the installation and use of Smart Meters has built statewide. Opposition is concentrated in Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) areas. PG&E has provided an opt out provision, which the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has not approved.

To date, 10 California counties, with Santa Barbara being the nearest to Idyllwild, and 35 municipalities have adopted ordinances or moratoriums opposing Smart Meter installation. That opposition, based primarily on citizen concerns over allegedly deleterious effects on health from the meter’s radio frequency transmissions, has generally gone nowhere since the CPUC has sole authority over the actions of the utilities. To date, counties and municipalities have been unable to trump CPUC authority.

Now opposition is building in areas served by SCE with demands for SCE to also provide an opt-out provision. Meanwhile, legislation in the State Assembly sponsored by Marin County assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-6 AD) would give utility customers statewide who object to wireless Smart Meter installation a mandatory alternative of having a hard-wired Smart Meter and require utility companies to disclose information about the levels of radio frequency emissions from the wireless Smart Meters.

Objectors also characterize the constant monitoring of electrical usage as a virtual search warrant into a home. For example, although the cited use is illegal without a permit, it would enable a utility company to detect unusual levels of electrical usage, such as with marijuana grow facilities.

Citizen opposition groups that provide information on alleged health dangers of Smart Meters include www.smartmeterdangers.org and www.electrosmogprevention.org, as well as Joshua Hart’s advocacy coalition, stopsmartmeters.org.

Although utilities, including PG&E and SCE, have downplayed the dangers, the issue of the strength of the transmission pulse from the meter remains an open question.

The merits of Smart Meters and their future are still being determined. The potential for monetary savings and dangers are being identified and, as with most new technology, it is the unexpected consequences — good and bad — which will likely define their future.

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