by Gene Bifano
The SMART citizens of Burlington were absolutely correct in rejecting the bond for SMART meters. SMART meters are touted to help reduce energy cost and help you. However 15 years ago when I worked in the electronic payment industry the electric companies were viewing SMART meters as a major profit maker.
They could charge lot more for electricity during peak energy periods that they deemed peak periods. In other words during these periods the Rate will jump and they will be making money for the same or even less electricity provided. It also provides insulation from not maintaining an adequate “Base” electrical capacity. They can buy on the Spot Market willy-nilly and simply pass the cost on to you through the SMART meter. An all this talk of alternative energy relying on nature will make this a real possibility.
Their profits would be three fold. One charging more for electricity with forced reduced demand. Reduced cost by not maintaining a sufficient “Base” capacity. And no need for meter readers a reduction of staff. So for less electricity they would be making more money.
That was then. But the pay back periods and up front investments and concern about regulators buying into higher rates delayed the implementation.
Now there is no concern about rate hikes, it’s for the good of the world. Their emphasis is marketing Green energy savings. Wow a grand slam they get the taxpayers to pay for the meters out of municipal taxes – not seen on the electric bill. The regulators will not deny the peak energy rate hikes and they make more money providing less electricity. The days of the Robber barons are not done.
So who pays the freight. Well, the Well-to-do will consume electricity like always their comfort will not be disturbed. It is the people in the lower tier of the economy that will have to decide on their comfort level. Will they turn-up their thermostats during hot spells and be hotter or turn down their thermostats in the winter and be cold in order to enjoy the electricity they have become accustomed to. Will they even know when the peak periods are in effect to adjust their thermostats? Please remember these meters can bill on 1-10-15 minute or whatever increments at the will of the powers company. People may not even know they are in a peak period.
Having made a basic argument against these devices. It is more insidious then just charging more during peak times. Google has announced it is working with electric companies and appliance manufacturers to build SMART controllers in appliances; refrigerators, Washer/dryers, heating systems etc. This will enable enable the electric company or even Google to spy on your usage, and even control control your appliances.
So lets explore the real and inevitable possibilities of SMART appliances and SMART Electric meters. Instead of having “rolling” brown/blackouts the systems can selectively target or except individuals for or from blackouts. Let’s get even more technical and say the government can manipulate your electricity punitively. They could do it with a few strokes of a computer keyboard. Absurd you say!
Really! About 90 years ago legislatures concerned about traffic safety and stolen or unsafe cars passed legislation declaring driving a privilege – controlled by the state of course. Before that is was a natural right.
The intentions were both good and sound. People should have driving test and should have safe cars to protect – us from one another. But now driving license and vehicle registration are not solely for driver safety. They are used as revenue producers through fines and fees. They are used for social manipulation. If you have a civil dispute with your spouse the state can intervene and take your drivers license to enforce a civil matter that has nothing to do with driving.
Let’s take another look into the future, you may be required to buy appliances that meet the SMART meter standards that will be more expensive then others. Or the worse of the worse someone could Hack this highly computerized system which is a real threat today with a relatively dumb system. What a mess that would be? The rule of thumb is the dumber systems are the safer they are from Hacking.
Can we rely on regulators to protect us? Well some may argue the the NRC is allowing VT Yankee to stay open. Others may argue the the Public Utility Commission has failed by forcing our rates up by allowing wind turbines. Some argue that reasonable research into wind turbines shows they’re the most inefficient, most expensive way to generate electricity, with the most profound impact on the environment. One would argue that 50-100years ago farming windmills used for water pumps and mills were replaced by electric motors. They were less expensive, more reliable, less of a hassle and produced water or energy when needed. Now those same electric motors will be powered by wind mills they replaced.
Yet the PUC following political mandates allows it. Who would think that 60 or so years ago that a system set-up to protect consumers is now abrogating their most basic responsibility.
The Burlington voters should not vote to allow these SMART meters into their homes without restriction to the hardware purchased for the meters that require psychical change to firmware or consumer action to modify meters, along with strong city ordinances that clearly denies technologies that invade the privacy of our homes.