Tuesday, August 20, 2013

CA Editorial: Face the facts on smart meters

Staff Reports
Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Memphis City Council will have an opportunity Tuesday to make the delivery of electrical power more cost-effective, head off future property tax hikes and improve the environment with the approval of smart meters and voluntary time-of-day electric rates for residents who use them.

The smart-meter program has drawn the kind of resistance that occasionally — or perhaps more than occasionally — comes with the territory when government or business tries to improve the delivery of services with advanced technology and fewer employees.

What’s important for City Council members is to rely on the facts surrounding smart meters, digital utility meters that wirelessly transmit usage information for the benefit of the utility and the customer — technology that has gained wide acceptance across the country.

On Tuesday’s agenda is a proposal to spend $10.1 million to add more than 60,000 meters to homes and businesses — a proposal that has stirred emotional reactions among customers who read into the initiative an effort by government to intrude more deeply into their personal lives.

In fact, smart meters give users the power to observe, understand and regulate their power usage, thus gaining more control over what they pay for electricity. Benefits also include the ability to determine who does and who does not have power in a power outage.

Like other technological adoptions by industry and government, this one will advance at the expense of jobs that it will make obsolete, in this case the meter readers who visit our homes on a monthly or semimonthly basis to get readings of our electric consumption. But customers who choose to opt out of the smart-meter program can still get their meters read for a charge, which is expected to be about $9.13 a month.

If the council approves the purchase and a companion measure, those who don’t opt out of the program can also enjoy the benefits of a time-of-day rate schedule that is on the agenda for Tuesday.

Time-of-day rates simply charge the customer more for electricity used during peak periods — summer afternoons, for example, when air conditioning usage is high — and less for off-peak periods: throughout the spring and fall, holidays, weekends and the like.

Again, agreeing to be charged time-of-day rates is voluntary. But advantages are obvious for the customer who pays attention to electricity usage.

Charging customers by time of day also can reduce the demand for new generating capacity in the future, which would benefit the environment and the customer’s pocketbook. Tennessee Valley Authority power plants that operate to handle peak hour demands are tremendously expensive to build and operate, and the health effects of the pollution they pump into the atmosphere cannot be ignored.

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