During the course of last year there were many important Texas energy news events. Now that 2012 has officially drawn to a close, it’s worth taking a few minutes to look back at the major electricity events that took place during the year. Surprisingly to some, the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas has found that the overall electricity use in Texas actually fell 2.7 percent during 2012 in comparison to 2011, though some of that is surely due to the fact that 2011 was the hottest year on record in Texas.
There were a few concerns voiced throughout 2012 about the strength of the Texas power grid, a problem that hasn’t been adequately addressed, thanks in part to the falling demand statewide. Still, the most talked about news story of 2012 for the electricity industry was the continuation of the smart meter installation project taking place in many of the utility service territories.
Introducing the smart meter
Since 2009, utilities in the competitive areas of the Texas electricity market have been installing smart meters at customers’ homes and businesses. It’s estimated that as of December 2012, 90% of consumers have had smart meters installed on their property, but during 2012 there were a growing number of complaints being filed with the Public Utilities Commission over the implementation of smart meters.
In general, smart meters are touted as the next big thing in the electricity market because they allow consumers, utilities and retailers to keep better tabs on electricity use. Smart meters enable utilities, retailers and consumers to take a reading on a much shorter period than a traditional monthly reading done by a service technician. In fact, some smart meters take readings every 15 minutes.
The regularity of readings afforded by smart meters allows retailers to offer new plans with rates that vary based on the time of day electricity is used. Many industry officials feel that these plans, which charge higher rates during peak usage times, are ideal for helping encourage the public to change their usage patterns. If more consumers use more electricity during non-peak periods, it will be much easier to reduce the overall stress on the Texas electricity grid.
The problem with smart meters in some consumers’ eyes revolves around the same concept. Some people don’t like the idea that their energy consumption will be followed so closely, likening it to an invasion of privacy. In one case during 2012, a resident actually drew a firearm on a utility worker who was attempting to install a smart meter on her property.
In response to all the controversy surrounding the blanket installation of smart meters, the PUC announced in December 2012 that it was exploring a new program to allow residents to opt out of the push for smart meter installation. Although details have yet to be hammered out, there will likely be a surcharge involved for those consumers who refuse to have a smart meter installed, but the option will be back on the table.