ARIZONA-Bibb: Are ‘smart meters’ coming home to roost?

Bibb: Are ‘smart meters’ coming home to roost?

  • By Mike Bibb columnist
  • Updated Mar 1, 2016

Yep, looks like the much herald utility “smart meters,” after only a couple years of usage, are already screwing up.

Imagine that!

I’ve previously written several columns on the smart meter controversy, dating back to October 2013, cautioning of various issues raised by other communities that switched from the older analog meters to the new digital electronic meters. In addition to safety and privacy concerns, there were also reliability factors involved because the new meters have a tendency to record erroneous information, often resulting in excessive charges to the customer.

Now it appears Safford utility ratepayers are encountering the same problems with their new gas meters (“Safford correcting overbilling errors,” Eastern Arizona Courier, Feb. 20, 2016). The article did not indicate if the electric and water smart meters were also experiencing similar malfunctions.

Actually, all my utility usage — electric, gas, water — increased substantially, in some cases, nearly doubling the previous month’s billing. Nothing has changed at my home to reflect such a dramatic jump in costs.

If I recall correctly, the same company that provided the city with the meters is also the same company that furnishes the monthly billing statistics. This isn’t to suggest there is a definitive conflict of interest situation, but it seems somewhat suspicious that, if the outfit supplying the meters is also the same firm doing the accounting, the chances of billing “errors” could conceivably occur in favor of the meter supplier.

It’s interesting to note this smart meter fiasco was foisted upon the public without notification. Personally, I did not receive any kind of written notice, phone call or visit by a city representative telling me the city was going to replace my older meters with the new digital versions. In fact, I wasn’t aware the exchange had taken place until a few months later, when the program was publicized in the local paper.

I don’t know who promoted this plan or why the city agreed to it. I can only assume it came about because of some kind of “free money” incentive from the federal government. Otherwise, why would a small town agree to such an expensive undertaking, considering the existing utility meters were functioning perfectly well? To my knowledge, the older meters were attached to my home for more than 25 years.

To make matters worse, the City Council informed the folks that if they didn’t agree to having the new meters installed, they would be fined for not doing so. An additional service charge would be added to the monthly bill to cover the costs of having a city meter reader employee actually read the older meters — the very same meters that had been previously read for decades without extra charges.

Can you say “voluntary compliance” five times without its morphing into “blackmail?”

Then, this week, we’re told meter readers will physically read the meters for the next three months at no charge. In addition, “all gas meters will be inspected and recalibrated manually by staff from the Gas and Customer Service Department.”

So, several thousand utility meters are going to be inspected because their reliability is in dispute. What is this blunder going to cost Safford utility/taxpayers?

Maybe the Safford City Council can provide the figures . . . and the reason why this misguided experiment occurred in the first place.

As the old saying goes, “Turkeys may be a great Thanksgiving treat, but in the business world, they’re usually indicative of expensive mistakes.”

Unless, of course, you happen to be a turkey farmer. Which, as nearly as I can determine, no one on the City Council is.

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