Smart Meter Arguments a Turn Off

Jerry Collins Jr., President and CEO, Memphis Light, Gas and Water, has penned a piece for The M Blog, a site for the Greater Memphis Chamber. It’s called “Moving Forward With Smart Meters.” It provides some interesting insight into what they are doing. More important is what he leaves out.

Note he uses the term “progressive” two times, “progress” once, “green,” “collectively” and “forward” once in the blog and for the title. Right there he is cluing us in that smart meters are not about energy savings, but about moving the progressive agenda forward. Here’s his essay:

The Greater Memphis Chamber and Memphis Light, Gas and Water have a great working relationship. When the Chamber is recruiting new business to Memphis, MLGW is usually a role player, helping to create an attractive utility package. Our low utility rates, the lowest in the nation I might add, help keep overhead costs down. Among other factors, powering a new office building, manufacturing plant or warehouse can have a major impact on a company’s bottom line.

The cost-analysis of start-up or relocation to Memphis is pretty straightforward. But, what about the intangibles? There are “quality-of-life” considerations that also influence decision-making. One is the innovative character of a city. I’d argue with everything being equal, City A will win out over City B every time because of A’s reputation for being progressive. Whether you’re talking about green initiatives, education, health or technology, leaders want to take advantage of the synergies incubated in a city that’s ahead of the pack. You may be thinking at this point, what does being a progressive city have to do with this blog’s title and smart meters? A lot. And Memphis is playing catch up—read on.

First, what is a smart meter? Smart meters are measurement devices. They measure energy consumption. Because they have built-in communication, they can provide on-demand feedback about usage and will allow MLGW to automate many services such as meter reading, connection and reconnection. Reduced labor (through attrition) and transportation costs will mean reduced fees — up to 50 percent depending on the service — for our ratepayers.

The savings on fees are significant, but the real “bang for your buck” is the information the smart meters can provide. Utilizing an intricate and secure mesh network, MLGW will be able to empower customers to make informed decisions about their energy use. Instead of waiting until the end of the month for a bill, individual and corporate customers will be able to review their usage daily and adjust their energy use if they so choose. Will they? Findings from our 1,000 participant electric smart meter pilot program indicate customers will choose to save. On average, customers reduced their electric usage by 2.3 percent. Participants on voluntary time-of-use rates saved more than double that figure at 5.62 percent, equated to $82.68 annual monetary savings.

Right now, MLGW has more than 1.1 million antiquated analog meters in service. (Meter manufactures no longer make analog meters.) A 2.5 percent reduction of consumption at full smart meter deployment could collectively save MLGW customers $10 million annually. A 2010 Younger and Associates Economic Impact Study reported $10 million in utility savings among customers would create 152 jobs through increased discretionary spending in the community.

Across the United States, there are 37 million smart meters installed in households today. Full deployment would move us forward in comparison to other utilities in Tennessee and neighboring states:

• Electric Power Board, Chattanooga, TN, 170,000 smart meters, 100% of total meters
• Gibson County Electric, Gibson County, TN, 35,000, 100% of total meters
• CDE Electric, Clarksville, TN, 31,000+, 100% of total meters
• Bolivar Energy Authority, Bolivar, TN, 11,000+, 100% of total meters
• Volunteer Energy Cooperative, Polk County, TN, 112,000 meters, 99% of total meters
• North Georgia E.M.C., 99,000 meters, 99% of total meters
• Nashville Electric Service, Nashville, TN, 30,000 smart meters
• Knoxville Utilities Board, Knoxville, TN, 4,200 smart meters

MLGW, which services Tennessee’s largest county, has a mere 1,200 smart meters or 0.2 percent deployment. Customers with smart meters are experiencing enhanced services including automated outage notification, increased security (they no longer have to keep their gates unlocked on meter reading day) and the option to prepay for their utilities.

It’s time for Memphis to move forward with smart meters—it’s about empowerment, jobs, new business, energy efficiency, and progress.

Collins talks about progressive cities having the edge on what – backwater nowherevilles? Cities like Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, St. Louis, Baltimore? Progressive cities that are broke, expensive and decaying? And yet we have the lowest energy costs here and we’re wrong? I’d like to stay a hick if that’s progress. Similarly, states like Texas and Florida are driving people away from progressive states.

Most of what he says, you will note, is backed up by studies for which we have to take his word for it on. His figures are like polls and statistics; you can manipulate them to get the answers you want very easily. As for MLGW needing fewer employees, how do we know that for sure? There will still be people needed to come out and put smart meters in, plus people to work on the computer systems.

When Collins talks about 152 new jobs being added simply because people will have more disposable income from smart meter savings, this is laughable. Says who? Again, he’s citing a study. We could probably come up with studies to prove just the opposite from the fewer amount of laborers he says MLGW will need.

Increased security? Maybe if you’re talking about fences and gates. But with smart meters you are very vulnerable to being hacked into and information about you and your monetary affairs taken. China does it all the time and our government says nothing. This is not reassuring.

Collins touts “the option to pre pay utilities.” Don’t you know they’d love that!

He conveniently skirts the issues of health concerns and the times when smart meters have started home fires. Also, the issue of freedom never comes up. Collins doesn’t want it to. The time of use rates and the spying on you will take your choice of how to run your home away from you.

The MLGW members who are so insistent on the need for smart meters – almost to the point of desperation – smells to me like money to be made by someone somehow. If we had a media that did its job, they’d look into this. Sadly, we don’t. We may have to find out the hard way.

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