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For some, smart meter is unwelcome intrusion

By: Jason Wheeler |

The US Department of Energy is close to releasing voluntary guidelines on the collection of data by “smart” electricity meters, installed at 3.2 million addresses in the Oncor electric service area

Beth Biesel had some unwelcome visitors.

“They used a ladder to jump over that fence right there,” she said.

no smart meterUtility workers entered her backyard to change out her analog electricity meter. She said she had repeatedly told them not to, and even covered her analog unit with wire mesh and this unambiguous sign:

ATTENTION: DO NOT INSTALL SMART METER

They did anyway, as they have at more than three million North Texas addresses.

In addition to tracking the amount of electricity you use, the new brainy boxes can keep tabs on how and when you use that power. That worries privacy advocates like Biesel.

“That is worth billions of dollars to marketing companies,” she said.

Realizing that, this month the U.S. Department of Energy will finalize guidelines concerning data obtained by smart meters. Those rules, though, will be voluntary.

One of the largest electric providers in Texas, TXU Energy, points out that state regulations already very clearly say that utilities can’t “sell, make available for sale, or authorize the sale of any customer-specific information or data obtained. We are very careful to adhere to those rules.” TXU adds: “The information provided by smart meters is really helpful for consumers. It allows them to understand how and when they are using electricity so they can take actions that can help them save money.”

But Beth Biesel isn’t satisfied.

“I think we need more,” she said.

After several bills failed to advance in the state legislature in 2013, she plans to meet with some lawmakers on Tuesday to push for new proposals in the upcoming session to more explicitly protect the privacy of electricity consumers, and to let them opt out of smart electric meters without paying a fee.

Biesel paid almost $200 to have her smart meter removed. “And now I have to pay just over $26 a month to keep it off,” she said.

While getting her old analog meter back has been costly, she said it has been worth it to get rid of an unwelcome visitor.

“Big brother in my house? I already have a big brother. I don’t need another one,” she said.