Invasion of Privacy and Dereliction of Fiscal Duty

This year, Senator John Carona (Dallas) authored a bill (SB 241) that would allow electricity consumers to opt-out of the advanced meters (aka smart meters) without additional fees, but the bill is dead in the senate. This story reads much like the TSA Anti-Groping bill by David Simpson in the 82nd legislative session.

There are several consumer concerns over the smart meters such as health issues regarding the RF radiation from wireless digital transmission, and privacy concerns. But above all is the fact that deployment of smart meters was never mandatory. The electric transmission and distribution utilities (TDUs such as Oncor, CenterPoint, AEP, TNMP) are a regulated monopoly and have forced this equipment on consumers stating that it is required by law, when in fact no statutory mandate exists. Today, the only known means to prevent a smart meter installation is a firearm or a doctor’s Rx.

In 2005, Rep. Dennis Bonnen authored HB 2129, which required electric utility providers to consider establishing certain consumer option programs that encourage the reduction of air contaminant emissions. This bill was later amended by the Senate to require the PUC to develop a plan for deployment of smart meter data networks. However, the bill did not create a mandate for smart meter installation, but “encouraged” implementation of smart meter data networks.

Unlike the analog meters of yesterday, these smart meters are a 2 way radio, between the supplier and the consumer, transmitting data via radio frequencies. Technology has also provided “smart” appliances (HVAC thermostats) that can communicate much the same way. The upside (or downside, depending on your sensitivity to your privacy) to these appliances is that these smart appliances can be remotely controlled by you, or others such as the electric supplier or a hacker. Most suppliers offer customers the ability to view their electricity consumption via the internet, broken down into 15 minute segments. Even though this transition offers new functionalities, it also brings security concerns in how the technology can be misused by a malicious adversary.

When confronting the TDUs or the PUC about privacy issues surrounding the smart meters, the textbook response suggests that the government or the utilities would never remotely control the electric usage without consent from the customer and they have no intention of selling or sharing the information gathered by the meters with any private companies. Well, then this consumer contends that the TDUs, the PUC, and the Texas Legislature have abused their power and have shown dereliction of fiscal duty by purchasing equipment that it never intends to use, and further has mandated its funding by all consumers. In other words, why pay for a Cadillac when a Volkswagen will do? If the TDUs and PUC never intend to use the expensive features in these smart meters, why did they purchase them in the first place?

Why hasn’t SB 241 which allows consumers to opt-out of the smart meters, received a vote on the floor of the senate during the 83rd Texas legislative session? This is the same song, 2nd verse to the TSA Anti-Goping bill. Because the big 3 (Governor, Lt. Governor, and Speaker of the House) don’t want it to see the light of day, and so it won’t.

The governor appoints the PUC Commissioners, who have implemented the mandatory installations of smart meters, against the will of the Texas Legislature. Now, the Texas Legislature won’t stand up to the PUC or the Governor. It’s easier to step on the constituents and save favor with the king.

Smart Meter briefing, March 4th, 2013, Texas State Capitol…

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