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Brave new world cometh

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I’m telling you this whole “green” thing is getting completely out of hand. Take, for example, my experience yesterday with TXU Electric and Oncor Electric Delivery.

My wife put the payment for our electric bill in the mail Wednesday morning but Wednesday afternoon we received yet another bill with a little different invoice date, due date and with an amount different by $2.21. Naturally, we were curious about why the two bills, so I called TXU Electric.

I was told by a very nice lady that in the first bill they had neglected to include a monthly TDSP meter surcharge of $2.21. Naturally, I asked what a TDSP meter surcharge was to which she replied it was a charge for new meters by Oncor Electric Delivery, owners of the power equipment, poles and lines. When I told the nice lady I didn’t want a new meter because I knew they were the kind that allowed TXU to read them from their office and eventually control the amount of electricity going into my house.

She very politely told me I didn’t have a choice. That, of course, prompted my next question: “What is Oncor’s phone number?”

When I got someone from Oncor Electric Delivery on the phone I was told the PUC (Public Utility Commission) had authorized retail electric providers to begin January 1, 2009, collecting a recovery fee for deployment of “smart meters.” This monthly surcharge was to continue for eleven years.

Once again I was told I had no choice about taking one of the new infernal devices because it “was the law.” I suggested to the lady that since they were going to have a lot fewer employees, vehicles and fuel expenses they should give me the meter for nothing. That went over like a lead balloon.

My next call was to Dinah Weable in Jim Pitts’ office. Dinah had never heard of this but was most helpful in trying to get an answer. Dinah said she had a good contact at the PUC and would give him a call and see what she could find out about all this.

Dinah’s contact responded that electric utilities rely on meters to accurately measure the consumption of energy used by a customer, but currently meters provide the billing information after the fact. So, the Texas legislature passed a law encouraging the deployment of the new meters that will “provide customers with a host of new and future benefits.” In looking at the brochure he forwarded one of those new benefits is enabling the utility to “record electricity use in 15-minute intervals instead of once a month like the old meters, providing customers more choice and control over their electric usage and expenses.” One of the bullet points in the piece he sent says, “In the future, the meters will be able to communicate with programmable devices (like your air conditioner or dishwasher) through a Home Area Network (HAN) module to monitor and control electricity consumption.” (My emphasis.) So, the whole issue is that the utility can control (ration) the amount of electricity one uses. This enables them to charge a “peak” rate and “non-peak” rate to force folks to adhere to their concept of how usage should be timed and consumed. Dynamic pricing according to the latest euphemism. This is confirmed by the statement, “You will have more choice and control over your electric usage and bill” in the PUC brochure.

Rick Morgan, commissioner with the Public Service Commission in D.C., said about dynamic pricing, “There’s no point in having smart meters if you’re going to have dumb rates.” So, let’s stick it to consumers again.

Also, I checked and I do not have one of these new infernal devices, yet I’m being billed for it each month (and will be for eleven years to come) and not to mention the fact I don’t want one.

Since these infernal devices are supposed to save the utility companies so much money (eliminating all the meter readers thus reducing their vehicle fleet and wear-and-tear not to mention the corresponding reduction in fuel costs) they should be providing and installing these darned things free of charge rather than saddling me with the cost.

The propaganda piece from the PUC even states, “Since in-person meter readings will not be required, the number of vehicles on the road will be reduced, thus reducing pollution, traffic, and fuel consumption.” Seems to me to be justification enough to furnish the meters for free.

But, there’s another element to this whole issue: privacy. With installation of the smart meters which are capable of recording energy usage very frequently, usually once every 15 minutes, readings of this sort can be used for surveillance, revealing information about people’s possessions and behavior.

For instance, it can show when someone is away for an extended period. Non-intrusive load monitoring gives many details about what appliances customers have as well as their living and use patterns. There is a potential for viruses and other malware in the software giving crooks information about empty homes and tempting targets.

So, when George Orwell wrote his novel about constant government surveillance most people, including me, snickered and thought it’ll never happen here. But, with the advent of the “greens,” emphasis on cutting down carbon emissions, reducing pollution, climate change and all the other nonsense, Orwell’s brave new world is coming sooner than we thought.

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