2012-10-11 / Front Page
Some blame smart meters for higher bills
But after Southern California Edison installed a new smart meter for her home on Aug. 1, the Agoura Hills woman said her utility bill suddenly tripled.
“There is something wrong. I have not used more electricity and I haven’t done anything new, so how does this smart meter charge me so much?” Losonci said.
Even with her air conditioner working overtime during the summer heat wave, the extra use shouldn’t amount to the significant increase in her bill, said Losonci, whose home is 1,150 square feet.
“The most I’ve paid is $100 to $125, and now all of a sudden it’s $318. The heat has been going on for three months, so that can’t be it,” she said.
The new devices, which replace analog meters, digitally transmit customer electricity use to Edison and let the utility company connect and disconnect service remotely.
According to a report on www.Forbes.com, scores of consumers in California’s Central Valley paid for more electricity than they actually used due to the errors of some 1,600 flawed smart meters belonging to Pacific Gas and Electric Company.
“I’m sure some of the meters are actually defective,” Losonci said.
Edison says the automated meters enhance system reliability and performance.
“I’m not aware of any significant trends toward customer concerns due to smart meters,” said Rudy Gonzales, regional manager for SoCal Edison, who attributed higher bills to the recent heat wave.
Typically the company gets more billing inquiries during the hot summer months, but it would be difficult to attribute these to smart meters, he said.
“People are running their air conditioner longer and they’ve had to use more electricity, so it’s likely the reason customers are experiencing these high bills. The higher bills give us an opportunity to share with folks what they can do to try to manage their bill,” Gonzales said.
Costs per kilowatt hour increase as people use more energy because power prices are based on a tiered structure. Furthermore, Edison has two rate cycles, and the higher summer rates ended Sept. 30, so bills should go down this month, Gonzales said.
By transmitting information within a secure wireless network, the smart meters will give residents access to information, programs and tools that will give them greater control over their energy use and budget, he said.
Edison offers incentives to help people reduce power use and save money.
Starting in mid-November, Edison customers will be able to monitor their electricity consumption online and save money through budget-management tools and Save Power Day alerts.
“They can sign up through their account on SCE.com. . . .” Gonzales said. “These are voluntary programs. Smart meters don’t give us the ability to regulate your energy usage but give you the option to voluntarily participate in energy conservation programs.”
Gonzales said the automated meters were thoroughly tested before being installed.
“But if a customer believes they are being overcharged, we’re more than happy to come out and complete a billing investigation. If it’s way off, we will adjust the bill. If it’s accurate, we will help the customer identify what is using the most power,” the spokesperson said.
But Agoura resident Al Federici, whose power bill went up from $235 in July to $480 for September, has misgivings about the new technology.
“The smart meters are not smart at all,” said the unemployed electrical engineer who believes the meter switch occurred too fast and without adequate testing to make sure they function properly.
Federici and Agoura resident Joyce Watkins recently surveyed friends and neighbors to see if they also saw a change in their electric bills.
“Thirty-four people in the locale are having the same problem. It’s a travesty,” Federici said.
While machines don’t lie, computers don’t always interpret the data accurately, he said. They may also fail to detect mechanical malfunctions.
“The problem is how they translate kilowatt hours previously gathered by reliable meter readers into electronic interpretations. This is always a problem. It’s not 100 percent, and they guess a lot,” Federici said.
Watkins was also astounded by her latest electric bill.
“I’ve never had a bill over $250. For it to go to $400 it’s not just the heat,” said Watkins, who urges other people to scrutinize their utility bill so they don’t pay more than they should.
“I want people to be aware, and if their bill did increase, don’t just assume it’s because of the heat,” she said.
Losonci said the billing errors appear sporadic.
“It’s not everybody,” she said, suggesting that Edison should be more proactive in reducing problems with the new meters and helping customers who received “astronomical” bills.
Concerns about higher-than-normal utility bills due to inaccurate smart meters, as well as threats to privacy and the effect the wireless devices can have on health, have surfaced nationwide.
In addition to billing mistakes, some critics believe the meters give companies too much control over their customers’ energy use and emit unhealthy radio frequency signals.
Gonzales said representatives from Edison have been meeting with community organizations to address customer apprehensions about the smart meters.
Jeff Reinhardt, spokesperson for Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, which also uses smart meters, said the devices have been an asset for his agency.
“We are finding that billing misreads occur less with (the automated meters) than with manual reading,” Reinhardt said.
The new meters have helped the district to identify water leaks more efficiently and, in recent months, have found leaky swimming pool filters, underground irrigation leaks and major leaks underneath homes, he said.
“This not only saves money for the customer but also results in a significant amount of water saved,” Reinhardt said.