As I’ve said before, smart meters are the average consumers’ principal (and most visible) link to the Smart Grid. Creation of a fully operable Smart Grid may well hinge on consumer acceptance of smart meters in their homes. Consumer acceptance, in turn, has at least three elements: (1) information ownership/privacy; (2) consumer confidence that smart meters accurately reflect actual electric usage; and (3) consumer willingness to pay for smart meter installation.
I already have a number of posts up on data ownership/privacy (see Post ## 4 and 5). As for the related “pocketbook” issues of smart meter accuracy and the cost of installation,
But this has not come without controversy, particularly with respect to PG&E. To date, the CPUC has received complaints of over-billing – based on allegedly inaccurate smart meter data – from 600 PG&E customers (compared to 10 such complaints from SoCalEd customers and 15 from SDG&E customers), see here.
In response to those consumer complaints (and pressure from California legislators), the CPUC has hired the Structure Group, a utility-consulting firm based in Texas, to conduct an independent evaluation of PG&E’s meters. The contract to Structure is worth about $1.4 million, and will be funded by the CPUC.
At the same time, the cost of smart meter installation, and the question of who pays, may be coming to a head in response to plans of Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) to fund a $1 billion smart meter program for its customers. Last month the CPUC’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates (DRA), an independent consumer advocacy division within the agency, has urged the CPUC to reject SoCalGas' application. DRA asserts that the proposed program is not in the best interest of SoCalGas customers, who will allegedly receive only about 85 cents in benefits for every dollar spent on the project. DRA also asserts that the program would raise rates for SoCalGas customers over the next six years. Previously, in February, CPUC Administrative Law Judge Jessica Hecht, who conducted hearings on the company’s application, issued a “proposed decision” recommending that the SoCalGas proposal be rejected. Judge Hecht asserted that the proposal would result in costs exceeding benefits by more than $145 million. SoCalGas disputes the judge's findings, saying that the new project would be slightly in the black at the end of the technology's 30-year life span. Further, in a competing “alternate proposed decision, CPUC Commissioner Dian Grueneich recommended CPUC approval of the project with relatively minor changes (see here and here).
I believe that, in the long run, smart meter installation will roll on in