How can you be against the smart grid? Or against smart meters?

Isn't it like being anti-motherhood or anti-apple pie or anti-education? Apparently not, according to a recent citizen uprising in Fresno. And a recent smart grid panel I moderated.

First the panel. I moderated a relatively contentious panel at the Netherlands America Foundation on Thursday night. Execs from smart grid hardware and software startups including:

All chimed in with the warning that:

  • A $2.2 billion meter deployment would have a questionable ROI if most of the savings came from reduced truck rolls 
  • The smart meters were not smart enough
  • Consumers don't want Big Brother controlling their thermostat and appliances

Even a panelist from the SF PUC was dubious of the value of the smart meters. As for the firms themselves, APT has been profitably integrating smart energy systems in the enterprise for 15 years – deploying smart energy before the term was invented.  iDo and HAE are start-ups looking to add intelligence to the building or home energy system but not at the meter.

On to the citizen uprising...

Excerpts from an October 22 article in The Fresno Bee:

    More than 100 people packed a town hall meeting in downtown Fresno to vent their frustration with PG&E's newest metering technology – SmartMeters – that customers say has led to faulty spikes in utility bills. "The meters, in my opinion, are not very smart," PG&E customer Joe Riojas told Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez, D-Shafter. The meeting lasted four-and-a-half hours. No one spoke in favor of the Smart Meters.

    Many customers brought their PG&E bills to show Florez their skyrocketing costs. For example, Don Vercellini of Fresno said his bill recently went from $500 a month to $1,173. "It's straight-out fraud. I want my money back," he said.

    Florez complained that the technology for customers to check usage will not be in place for years.

    Said Florez: "People don't see the value [in this program]. They just see higher cost, and that makes them angry."

You wouldn't like Fresno when it's angry.

Jeff St. John blogged about it here. According to St. John's reporting: Those complaints have focused attention on PG&E's $2.2 billion, 10 million smart meter deployment, with the California Public Utilities Commission demanding that PG&E find a third party to investigate.

But PG&E has already tested many customers' smart meters – made by General Electric and Landis+Gyr and networked by Silver Spring Networks – and have not found any problems with how they're working, according to PG&E spokesman Denny Boyles.

Rather than malfunctioning meters, PG&E thinks the higher bills have come from its two rate hikes in the past 12 months, plus a hot summer that led to many Central Valley residents cranking their air conditioners to beat the heat, Boyles said.

With the feds ready to launch another wave of smart grid funding – it would be helpful for the public to actually want these products and services. And to actually feel some immediate benefit and value from the smart grid.

It can't be just about benefits for the utilities.