Electricity and “Smart Meters”
“… the truth shall make you free.” Jesus Christ
Over the last week, I have had numerous conversations with constituents, friends and technical experts about electric meters including so-called smart meters. This report will be my attempt to summarize what I have learned and answer many of the questions I could not answer before. Topics range from data collection and security to health concerns.
First, concerning the various types of electric meters, there are three: a digital “dumb meter” which has no transmission capabilities and must be read manually each month (this meter used to be analog, but now has a digital readout), one-way meters that transmit electricity information like voltage and amperage to an office but cannot receive data and a “smart meter” that transmits electricity quality and demand data and can also receive signals from a central office. No personal or account data resides on any of the meters, and none increases or decreases the system’s data security. The smart meter does, however, make monitoring and managing the system easier.
A smart meter cannot communicate with a homeowner’s device such as a thermostat or hot water heater without the homeowner enrolling in a program and then supplying a unique digital address for the device. In Missouri, the Public Services Commission’s (PSC) prior approval is required before an electric company can begin such a program. The program would likely involve a website where a customer would specify what appliances they wish to enroll and provide an IP address for each one.
For those who choose to opt-out of a smart meter, the customer pays a one-time fee to have a dumb meter installed and a monthly service fee to have the meter read. Such a meter would look like a smart meter with a digital readout but would emit no radio frequency (RF) signals. The smart meter, on the other hand, according to a study by the Electric Power Research Institute, emits between 4 and 40 microwatts/square centimeter, about one percent of the emissions of a cell phone. The meter emit RF signals only a few minutes a day, and signal intensity is reduced by surrounding materials, typically dropping it to 0.01 percent of the FCC limit inside a home. Although Kansas City Power & Light Company (KCP&L) has been deploying smart meters for some time, Ameren currently has no smart meters deployed in Missouri.
Senate Bill 190 from 2017 included an opt-out provision after concerns were expressed about data security. The opt-out along with a number of other provisions were not included in drafting SB 564 in 2018, partly because our two largest utilities – KCP&L and Ameren – were both already offering opt-outs as required by the PSC. As a reference, in Illinois, where Ameren is deploying smart meters, out of over 1.2 million Ameren customers, approximately 770,000 have already received smart meters and approximately 800, or a little over one tenth of one percent, have chosen to opt-out of smart meters. The high cost of servicing the alternative meters may account for the small number of opt-outs. House Bill 2265, which has come over from the Missouri House of Representatives, caps the opt-outs at 2 percent while no opt-out cap exists in either current law or in SB 564. Nevertheless, given the experience in Illinois, the 2 percent cap may be adequate.
Even though the PSC has exercised its authority to require opt-out provisions, I am working on statutory language that would put an opt-out into law. A bill has been identified to which we hope to attach the language as an amendment. If successful, the language will also provide a medical exemption from the cost of exceptional service with proper validation. It will also task the PSC with devising or approving a notification process to be utilized prior to a customer’s meter being converted to a smart meter. I hope this information is helpful as you watch the progress of SB 564 and/or HB 2265.
Finally, what is the benefit of converting to a smart meter? Smart meters provide a customer with improved service that can result in increased convenience and true savings. For example, outages will be less frequent and shorter. Operating and maintenance costs are lower because problems can be diagnosed and often solved remotely. A truck and crew may not even be dispatched. If a dispatch is required, workers can go directly to the problem and not spend costly time trying to locate it. Eventually, as programs are developed and approved by the PSC, a customer will be able to view electricity usage in real time, access pricing options and control both energy usage and cost
Grid modernization is not just smart meters, however; it is much more than that and it impacts every aspect of the electrical grid. In fact, one reason SB564 includes a limitation on smart meters is in recognition that frequently other infrastructure components must be improved before smart meters can be fully utilized. I hope this information is helpful as you watch the progress of SB 564 and/or HB 2265.
Thank you for reading this legislative report. You can contact my office at (573) 751-2108 if you have any questions. We welcome your prayers for the proper application of state government