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Smart meters generate concern

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Though electric utility smart meters are becoming more common across Texas, a number of area residents, including Jonathan Love of Lantana, are resisting the switch and speaking out about their concerns.

CoServ, the Corinth-based electric cooperative which provides his and other residents’ electricity, began installation of the smart meters in its “eCoGrid” project in March and expects to complete the project by April 2013 in areas they serve in Lantana, Argyle, Bartonville, Copper Canyon, Double Oak, Flower Mound, and Highland Village.

The digital meters are replacing the old rotating analog meters and will communicate wirelessly with the electric company.  Currently, there is no option available to opt out of the program.

“My main privacy concern is the immense amount of data the meters are designed to collect,” Love said.” As far as I am concerned, the meter is a surveillance device. They are going to collect data as if I were a prisoner with an ankle bracelet.”

The cooperative, which refers to its customers as Members, has said there’s nothing sinister about smart readers. Kathryn Gloria, CoServ’s marketing and communications director, addressed some of the common concerns.

“The company recognizes that a few Members are uncertain about the technology associated with advanced meters, and feels that most concerns stem from incorrect information driven by Internet propaganda,” Gloria said.

Gloria said the meter only transmits data related to electricity use and that “per our privacy policy, Member information is not shared with any unauthorized party, and individual Member usage is not reported to the government.”

Such assurances are of little comfort to Love. He said his problem is the information he believes can be deduced by the smart readers.

“If I set up a camera in front of your home and took a picture every 15 minutes and used the pictures in ways you could not control, would that be an invasion of privacy? Of course it would,” Love said. “The meters will read your usage every 15 minutes for the rest of your life. There are about 2,500 homes in Lantana. That translates into over 7,200,000 data points per month. They will know when you’re home or not and almost exactly what appliances are running.”

But Gloria says the smart meters aren’t really that powerful.

“They serve the same purpose and measure energy exactly the same way the old meters measure energy,” she said. “The meter is simply a gateway where the power passes from the utility to the consumer — and it’s either on or it’s off. The energy control a utility has with an advanced meter is the ability to remotely connect or disconnect service (e.g., used for quick, efficient move in/out service and for disconnect for nonpayment) — again, the ability for the utility to turn the flow of power on or off.”

Love said CoServ has not addressed his concerns, however.

“I have expressed my concerns to (CoServ) and they dismissed my concerns about privacy and pointed to their Privacy Policy,” he said. “However, they could change the policy any time they choose. Who owns this mountain of data? What if the police or your insurance company ‘asked’ for the data? Would they be required to get a subpoena? I doubt it. (CoServ representatives) state in their e-mailed responses that they are not under the authority of the Public Utility Commission.”

Gloria said CoServ is not interested in prying into its customers’ lives.

“Please understand that CoServ has no interest in knowing how long an individual ran a blender, dried a load of clothes, ran their pool pump, or how much energy is used to heat or cool their home, unless we can use this information to help a Member, when requested by the Member, understand where they can potentially reduce their electric bill.”

Love remains hopeful that the state government can at least compel CoServ and other electric utilities to allow customers to opt out of smart meter programs.

“My hope is that our elected officials will stop or delay the implementation of these meters so that our state legislators can deal with the issue in the next session,” he said. “The meters should be voluntary. If the meter was so effective and of such an advantage to me, CoServ would not have to make it mandatory.”

Find out more about the new meters at www.coserv.com.

 

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