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Smart meters

Ever wanted to check your house’s power usage online? You will, or at least you’ll be able to.

CenterPoint Energy, along with other distribution utilities and IBM, is expected to launch an online portal, www.smartmetertexas.com, this month that will allow customers to monitor usage in real time regardless of which retailer provides their electricity.

Without the portal, customers who have the new devices called smart meters have had to seek their usage data through their electricity retailers or by buying a monitoring system.

CenterPoint has installed about 180,000 smart meters so far as part of a four-year program to install them throughout its service area in Southeast Texas.

Because meters take about two months to go fully online, only 130,000 customers will have immediate access to their electricity data on the Web site, CenterPoint spokeswoman Leticia Lowe said.

CenterPoint originally planned to install meters at all its customers’ businesses and residences by 2014, but a $200 million federal grant will help it finish the job by 2012, the company says.

I’m all for making more information available to people, and if this does help folks reduce their monthly bills, so much the better. But as of right now I share Loren Steffy’s skepticism.

Perhaps if the readout [on the usage monitor from CenterPoint we had installed a year ago] had enabled us to actually make changes that would affect our bill, it would have mattered to us more. Maybe if we could buy our electricity based on the time of usage instead of simply the amount, the monitor would have been a useful tool.

But for all the promise of innovation that was supposed to come with deregulation, consumers have seen few changes other than higher and more confusing bills. Smart meters are arriving in the Houston area long after they should have and with fewer options than consumers deserve. And, because CenterPoint remains regulated, ratepayers are shouldering the cost just like the old days. Even some electric retailers I’ve spoken with say they’re skeptical that the new meters will bring significant changes to the market.

Yeah, it sounds better than it probably will be to me, too. Without knowing what exactly is drawing the bulk of your power, how can you sensibly adapt your behavior? And not to put too fine a point on it, but this won’t do anything for folks who don’t have Internet access. A federal grant to do energy audits for lower-income folks, coupled with some money to help them get basic fixes – you know, like this – would probably do a lot more to save people money and reduce consumption at the same time. Sure, go ahead and roll out the smart meters – we’re already paying for them, after all – but don’t expect it to mean much.

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2 Comments

  1. ERocha says:

    While I miss Houston, I don’t miss the erratic electric bills I would get. I love my city owned electric company. I knew there was something fishy going on in Houston after I paid $80 for a 1744 sq ft apartment in SA.

    My posts on Amigo Energy still get a lot of hits and I am glad. I would be worried once those smart meters are finally put in. I wouldn’t be surprised if the electric provider start jackin with their customers.

  2. Matthew Smiths says:

    Who looks in their utility cupboard every day to see the gas meter and understands how much they have spent? I think Smart Meters are a good idea and can help people. I found a video about Energy Smart Meters which explains the basics. Smart Meters will monitor electricity consumption and help to understanding where to save money and reducing carbon emissions. Simple as that! Why it is not worth spending money?