After weeks of mounting anger, a class action lawsuit was filed last Friday accusing Oncor of fraud.
"Skyrocketing electricity bills are crushing innocent Texas consumers as a result of Oncor's installation of 'smart' meters," the suit proclaims.
The plaintiffs, Robert and Jennifer Cordts and their lawyer, Jason Berent of Berent & Wilson LP, make a laundry list of accusations in the lawsuit. The suit alleges that Oncor is purposely rolling out smart meters in low-income areas first and that smart meters are a ploy for utilities to “line their pockets” in a deregulated market.
The Cordts found their bills skyrocketed from $400 to $700 a month to $1,800 after a smart meter was installed. In three months they racked up nearly $5,000 in electricity bills.
“[The suit] is full of misstatements and untruths,” said Oncor spokesman Chris Schein. “It’s clear that it’s a lot of hyperbole designed to get media attention rather than address the facts that are out there.”
(You can read the full lawsuit here. And really, it is quite a read.)
Oncor tested the Cordts' smart meter twice, and had arranged a meeting between the couple and a customer service representative to go over their billing, which the plaintiffs cancelled shortly before filing the lawsuit.
The lawsuit in Texas is the second lawsuit against smart meters; the other suit is pending against Pacific Gas & Electric in California. The legal actions highlight the chasm between implementing the building blocks of a smart grid and consumer awareness.
“While there may be certain potential benefits to ‘smart’ meters,” the lawsuit notes, “Oncor is not advertising that customers with ‘smart’ meters will ultimately be charged different rates depending on when energy is consumed.”
Time-of-use pricing will be a cornerstone of a fully functional smart grid, yet in this lawsuit, it is painted as a cash grab by utilities.
While TOU pricing is not at the heart of this lawsuit, the mention of peak pricing as an evil ploy to cheat honest customers illustrates how much work needs to be done to engage consumers before smart meter rollouts begin. Currently, TOU pricing is voluntary in Texas. Additionally, while Oncor delivers the electricity, it does not produce it, and consumers can choose their electric provider, each of whom set different rates.
The lawsuit is rife with colorful language and moral lessons for Oncor, complete with quotes from past presidents.
“Note to Oncor: in the words of Abraham Lincoln, ‘You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time,’” the lawsuit warns.
Creative writing aside, the lawsuit is a serious blow to Oncor, which doesn’t seem to be able to contain customer anger. Their side-by-side testing of old and new meters has been rejected as a sham and angry consumers are still questioning the software that collects data from the smart meters.
At this time, Oncor does not have any plans to slow or stop the installation of smart meters. “We have not found any evidence that would lead us to believe there is a problem,” said Schein.
A hearing has yet to be scheduled.