They’re in over 6 million Texas homes. But if you want to get rid of them, you’ll have to pony up. We’re talking about smart meters — advanced electricity meters that communicate wirelessly with the grid. They’ve spread rapidly across the state since 2005, when the state legislature passed a law to fund and encourage the distribution of smart meters. Now they’re in 97 percent of Texas homes in the deregulated electricity market, according to the Public Utility Commission of Texas. (In the non-competitive areas of the Texas market, Austin has smart meters installed throughout its area, while San Antonio is slowly expanding smart meters in the city.)
But after some Texans (notably, the Alex Jones/Infowars crowd) made their privacy and health concerns about smart meters vocal, the Public Utility Commission decided to give people a choice to stay out of the smart meter craze. “The customers who opt-out will have to pay the costs that will be incurred to be able to do that,” Public Utility Commissioner Ken Anderson told StateImpact Texas recently. “We also will be requiring those customers to acknowledge in writing that they understand they will be losing some benefits from not having the smart meters.”
Now that the rules have been figured out, some transmission companies are submitting proposals for how much they want to charge customers who opt out. It isn’t going to be cheap. If you’re in the competitive market of Texas (most of the state other than Austin, San Antonio and El Paso) choosing to opt out means you can be subject to a one-time or recurring fee, or both, totaling hundreds of dollars.
Trade publication SNL Financial waded through several filings with the Commission and here’s what they found: If you’re under American Electric Power in Central Texas, it could cost you more than $200 to stick with an old analog meter if a smart meter hasn’t already been installed at your house. To come and replace a smart meter with an analog one will cost you even more, more than $300, plus $18 a month. If you’re an AEP customer in North Texas, it could cost you $356 to replace your smart meter with an old analog one, plus a recurring $35 monthly fee.
The list of charges goes on: Oncor could charge you more than $400 to have an analog meter instead of a smart meter installed; if you already have a smart meter, Oncor could charge you as much as $842, plus a monthly fee around $25. Other transmission companies like CenterPoint are proposing smaller one-time charges, but some of them with higher monthly fees.
The commission maintains that smart meters help utilities to respond to outages faster and allow both utilities and consumers to better track energy use. Analog meters also require manual readings, unlike smart meters. That means a utility company has to visit your home each month to track your usage.
The Commission says that privacy and health concerns about smart meters are “unwarranted,” and that they emit “an RF signal that is at least ten times below the FCC standard and is considered safe for everyday exposure.”