Smart meters have been quickly rolling out around the country. The digital meters that measure and automatically send energy use information to utilities over WiFi have scores of benefits for both utilities and their customers. The devices provide real-time energy use information unlike the analog electrical meters which are only checked monthly by a utility's meter readers.
This instant flow of information helps customers to track and manage their energy use and even save some money and it allows utilities to more quickly and efficiently respond to demand peaks, outages and other grid issues. They're essential to having a smarter, more reliable electrical grid.
Despite all of those positives, groups around the country have opposed smart meter installations for a series of reasons from health to privacy concerns, most of which have no real factual basis. Protesters in California have blocked roads to keep utility trucks from entering neighborhoods and town hall meetings have been filled with people shouting, but by far the most extreme reaction has been in Texas where utility workers may face the barrel of a gun when they come to install the new meters.
The AP reports:
Thelma Taormina keeps a pistol at her Houston-area home to protect against intruders. But one of the last times she used it, she said, was to run off a persistent utility company worker who was trying to replace her old electricity meter with a new digital unit.
"This is Texas." she declared at a recent public hearing on the new meters. "We have rights to choose what appliances we want in our home."
Some other residents are building steel cages around their analog meters, others are merely threatening utility workers who show up to make the switch and others are excitedly waving Texas flags in protest at public meetings. The residents who oppose the meters have cited concerns that the new meters would let authorities from the local police to government agencies spy on them and monitor their actions.
"It's Gestapo. You can't do this," said Shar Wall of Houston, who attended the Public Utility Commission meeting wearing a large red "Texas Conservative" pin. "I'm a redneck Texas girl and I won't put up with it."
The fervor with which people are protesting the change is surprising, but it's important to note that while loud, the opposition is very much a minority, even in Texas. California, Vermont, Maine and Nevada have all allowed customers to opt out of the new meters, but they have to pay a fee to cover the cost of sending meter readers to those homes sticking with the analog version. The Texas Public Utility Commission will decide this fall if they'll allow residents to opt out, but that seems like the best choice.
The success of the smart grid relies on the most energy consumers as possible participating. Luckily, so far very few people have actually taken the opt out. In California, PG&E has had about 4,400 customers choose to keep their analog meters and only expects 150,000 to do so at most out of their 5.4 million customers. In Maine, only about one percent of customers have opted out.