By Elsa Maxey
Smart meters have been getting installed all over Fort Bend County…and Texas for that matter. They are operating in other parts of the U.S., in Canada and other parts of the world, where they are also on deployment schedules. They collect data constantly, and in this area, there are some suspicions about their use echoing concerns heard elsewhere about how the unit could really turn out to be a surveillance device.
The smart meters measure energy use. But, it has been reported that the information will be done at short intervals, 15-minute increments in this area, and not at the end of the month or a billing period. The local area’s system features two-way communications able to send and receive information between consumers and CenterPoint Energy.These new meters also automatically notify CenterPoint Energy when the power goes out.
Information gathered on the use of consumption could reveal the number of occupants in a home, albeit a rough estimate, and also energy use data will reveal when anyone is present in a home or away, like on vacation. “Unless you use timers on all kinds of appliances while you’re gone, like have the washing machine and dishwasher wash empty loads,” said a local resident. But that defeats the purpose of the smart meter, which is about conserving energy. The door hanger placed in homes throughout Sugar Land, for example, states that the smart device is intended to be a money saver and will help the environment allowing a consumer to know which appliances use the most energy.
On the privacy issue, the information or data is alleged to be collected and stored without a customer’s permission or expressed consent, but rather implied consent. A “Ban Texas Smart Meters” group states this is violation of 4th Amendment privacy. “Your new smart meter is coming soon,” said the door hanger from CenterPoint Energy here, asking residents to “Please be sure we have access to your meter” for the meter replacement installation.
Reports show many utility service consumers across the state are also opposed to the use of the smart meters because of claims about their posing health risks due to radio frequencies from the wireless transmissions, in addition to compromising consumer privacy concerns. An account states that a hacker showed how he could intercept data with a $30 device. Some fear this is data that could be accessed by thieves and burglars to determine when no one is usually in a home.
Indications show state legislators are getting involved and attempts may be headed towards placing a temporary halt on the further installations of the smart meters until there is more test feedback. There are also reports about how after installation of the meters, bills were higher although electricity use did not change, and about isolated incidents on smart meter malfunctions accounting for excessive bills.
Then, there’s the new feature referred to as demand response, “controlling your thermostat from anywhere,” reads the placard from CenterPoint Energy. Who will do this?
Locally, this is among the questions in the making relating to the smart meters and the “Star” is gearing up to get answers.
What say you in Fort Bend County? Any questions?