June 13, 2013

PUC’s staff: CMP meters not living up to promises

The smart devices are not saving money or cutting energy use, the sta• says as the agency considers an audit. But the company insists the analysis is all wrong.

By Tux Turkel tturkel@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

“I think people like to know that they have choices, whether they take them or not,” she said.    Bryant, the lawyer in the Public Advocate’s Office, has a different take on the lack of participation. Most electricity customers, he said, just want stable and predictable rates.   

“For decades,” he said, “most customers have been happy to flip a switch and have power, and write a check each month. I’m not sure the bulk of customers are ready to go beyond that.”   

Another promised benefit of smart meters is that they would let customers monitor their electricity use in real time, and hopefully spot trends that would help them lower use. Customers who pay their bills online now have that option, through a Web portal called Energy Manager. Customers can track their energy use over various time periods, see the cost and compare it to an average.    So far, 6,000 people have signed up, 1 percent of CMP’s customer base.   

That’s not a sign of failure, in CMP’s view.   

“You can’t really hold us responsible if people aren’t using the technology,” Carroll said. “The system is there. They system is working.”   

CMP’s main task was to set up the platform, Carroll said. In the example of time-of-use rates, he said, the meters make it possible, but it’s also up to competitive energy providers to offer and market rate alternatives that can save customers money.   

Durand, the smart-grid advocate, said the responsibility falls to both utilities and competitive energy providers.

They must break the market in segments. They could, for example, promote time-of-use rates to customers with environmental leanings, by highlighting that running fewer power plants reduces carbon emissions.   

“Sometimes, consumers don’t even know these programs exist,” she said.    It’s also possible that some of the functions of smart meters will be leapfrogged by tools and practices that are just coming into wider use. Manufacturers are starting to roll out equipment and mobile applications that let consumers operate their air conditioners and washing machines from their smart-phones. 

But Durand said it will take many years for smart appliances to become common in most homes. Even then, the time and use data collected by the meters will help service providers show consumers which energy plans can save them money, just as calling and texting habits help people decide which cellphone plans to pick today.   

“I don’t view it as leapfrogging,” she said. “I view it as complementary.”   

Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at: tturkel@pressherald.com

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