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Smartmeter installation to begin
Not everyone sold on idea
If you haven’t heard the word, Southern California Edison will be appearing soon with a new meter for you.
Thes announcement should have been presented to residents in a letter this week. However, there’s a great deal of information which is not conveyed in the letter, but which may affect how the average Porterville resident views and understands their electricity bill.
Generally referred to as the “smart meter”, and marketed by Edison as “SmartConnect” for both the meter and online tools, this system allows Edison to remotely monitor energy usage for individual users. Along with the meter, the new online-based SmartConnect program will be offered to users who will be able to view real-time updates of their own usage, within a 24-hour window, as well as set monthly usage goals to budget utility costs. Customers can also receive alerts via e-mail or text message warning that this set goal has been surpassed.
“The overall goal of all our efforts is to have safe and reliable electricity,” Cal Rossi, SCE Public Relations manager for the area, told the Porterville City Council on Aug. 21, adding that the company would start sending out notification letters later that week through the end of the month.
Rossi and SCE Region Manager Bill DeLain made the rounds in August to local government bodies to give them a heads-up visit both the Porterville and Lindsay city councils and the Board of Supervisors to let those bodies know what their constituents can expect in the upcoming months. The installations will begin in October and are scheduled to be completed in December.
In Rossi’s presentation, he said the meters will increase the reliability of the system because, “right now Southern California Edison is alerted that power is down... because customers call. The SmartConnect program will allow us to instantly know that the service is non-operational and we will be able to deploy staff on a more rapid basis to respond to the issue.”
He added that there are other major advantages to remote control. Also, we’ve all had the experience that we’ve moved away and the electric company has to establish service. This will allow for that service to be established remotely.”
Rossi added that because of this remote option, landlords will be able to monitor energy costs for their properties, and the average user will eventually be able to conserve the amount of energy their home uses while they are away from it.
“Once they [the meters] are in — beginning the first quarter of 2013 — many of the programs and features will be available to our customers,” DeLain told the Board.
According to one Porterville resident, Arlene Murrell, it doesn’t matter what benefits the consumer will have from the SmartConnect program.
“I, just on principal, want to opt-out,” Murrell said, stating that she’d received her letter from Edison and that she was so angry over it’s contents, she didn’t bother with the Edison website link that was included in the letter, she went straight to the source and called Edison.
“All the letter states is that you will be receiving a letter,” Murrell said of why she called the company. “It doesn’t say anything at all about an opt-out.”
Previous news stories which mentioned that Edison was preparing for its Tulare County installation are what tipped Murrell off that this was an option, and one which she followed up quickly with a phone call to Edison. She was told they were offering their clients the ability to go back to the old meter, for a one-time charge of $75 dollars and a monthly fee of $10.
At that point she was upset not just about the installation — which she has mistrusted since watching news coverage of the transition in Fresno and Bakersfield where many of the users bills rocketed up because of problems with the meters — but about the charge as well. So she called the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). The consumer affairs representative she spoke to told her that those “bugs” had been worked out since then. Murrell was not satisfied.
“He advised me to file a complaint,” Murrell said. “I encourage everyone to file a complaint.”
Actually, at this point, Murrell is not only choosing to opt out, she is encouraging everyone else in Porterville to do so as well, because by doing so, jobs would be saved. The transitions to these new meters means that the meter readers will be out of a job soon. Council Member Brian Ward broached the subject with Rossil, asking why there was an opt-out fee in place when users were currently already paying for the meter reader service.
“Many meter readers have been moved to other departments. Through attrition we’ve been able to deal with it. Throughout the SCE service territory, 150 folks are remaining that we will most likely be laying off in the next three months,” Rossi said. The official stance, written out on the Edison website is, “California’s standard for metering is now smart meters. The CPUC has determined that the costs for non-standard service should be paid by those customers who choose the non-standard service.”
However, Murrell brought this issue up when she talked to CPUC’s consumer affairs representative and was told that Edison chose the fee amount.
“I will file a complaint with CPUC on the fact that I consider it extortion,” Murrell said.
Rossi did point out that those who qualified for one of the income-based assistance programs that SCE has will be able to opt-out for a one time fee of $10, with a monthly fee of $5.
While the idea of a more reliable and easier to manage grid is good, there has been a national backlash against a conversion to these meters, mainly based on health and privacy concerns. SmartConnect is also constrained by the fact that to take full advantage of it, a user has to be able to access their account online. Those who cannot easily access a computer, or who don’t have the skills to access the site will gain little, but will still see an increase to their energy bill, as Edison is funding the $1.6 billion project with a 1.6% increase to each user’s rate.
DeLain told the Board that SCE began installing the SmartConnect meters three years ago, and explained that Tulare County is the last of its service areas to be upgraded. So far, the company has installed 4.5 million meters in other areas, with 200,000 left to install in Tulare County.
Installations will be done by a contractor called Corix Utilities Monday through Saturday between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Owners do not need to be present as long as the old meter is accessible. The installation only takes five to ten minutes, and users can expect their service to only be interrupted for a minute. A notice of successful installation will be left after the work is done. However, anyone who operates needed medical equipment in their home should contact SCE at 1-800-973-2356 as soon as possible.
This opt-out program, for both SCE and San Diego Gas and Electric, was created after a decision by the California Public Utilities Commission in response to a suit filed against Edison in July 2011 by a number of groups who demanded the ability to opt-out, because of privacy or health concerns.