NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 28, 2009

Utilities are spending billions of dollars outfitting homes and businesses with the devices, which wirelessly send information about electricity use to utility billing departments and could help consumers control energy use, says the Wall Street Journal.

Proponents of smart meters say that when these meters are teamed up with an in-home display that shows current energy usage, as well as a communicating thermostat and software that harvest and analyze that information, consumers can see how much consumption drives cost -- and will consume less as a result.

Such knowledge, however, doesn't come cheap, says the Journal:

  • Meters are expensive, often costing $250 to $500 each when all the bells and whistles are included, such as the expense of installing new utility billing systems.
  • And utilities typically pass these costs directly on to consumers; for example, CenterPoint Energy Inc. in Houston recently began charging its customers an extra $3.24 a month for smart meters, sparking howls of protest since the charges will continue for a decade and eventually approach $1 billion.

Consumer advocates fear the costs could be greater than the savings for many households.  They also worry that the meters will make it easier for utilities to terminate service -- so easy that they will disconnect power for small arrearages that wouldn't have caused a termination in the past.

What's more, the cost to consumers could go beyond the extra charges imposed by utilities.  That's because consumers usually are left to their own devices (literally) when it comes to adding the in-home displays and home-area networks that use data from the meters to control appliances and other pieces of equipment, says the Journal.

Source: Rebecca Smith, "Smart Meter, Dumb Idea?" Wall Street Journal, April 27, 2009.

For text: 


Browse more articles on Environment Issues