2012-07-06 / Front Page
Smart meters coming to Simi Valley in near future
Edison claims technology will save energy while cutting costs
“The week of July 9, those are the dates that the installation will begin in the Thousand Oaks service center,” said Rudy Gonzalez, the SCE region manager for the area that serves Simi, Moorpark, Thousand Oaks, Westlake, Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Hidden Hills and Malibu.
As part of its SmartConnect program, Edison is installing 5.1 million smart meters. The power company is in its third year of meter installations, which are expected to wrap by the end of 2012. As of June, more than 4.4 million meters had been installed.
Touted as transforming the way Southern California uses energy, Edison’s SmartConnect program is made up of two components: the digital smart meter and a two-way system that communicates energy usage over a secure wireless network from a home or business to the utility company, and vice versa.
Installations throughout the area will take 60 to 90 days, Gonzales said, but changing out a single meter takes just a few minutes.
Once plugged into the system, residents are able to see detailed energy usage reports that give them more control over their energy use and help them manage their bill.
The goal, Gonzales said, is saving energy and cutting costs.
“With the smart meters, (customers) will be able to monitor their usage on a daily basis and establish target goals,” he said. “It will also eventually offer the opportunity for customers to shift their energy usage and take advantage of lower-priced, offpeak electricity, and right now we don’t have that capability because our meters only monitor kilowatt hours, not when you use them.”
This new wireless energy grid is also supposed to help prevent large-scale outages, help SCE quickly repair any problems that arise, and enhance overall system reliability and performance.
“With the implementation of time-of-use rates, which are rates based on when you use your electricity, there will be incentives for people to shift their usage outside the peak periods and that will minimize the possibility for the need to implement the rotating outages,” Gonzales said.
The need to implement smart meters stems from the Federal Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which required states to modernize electrical grid technologies.
In December 2009, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) directed each of the large California investor-owned utilities—SCE, San Diego Gas & Electric and Pacific Gas & Electric—to update their metering devices with the goal of equipping each customer with a smart meter by the end of 2012.
The CPUC- approved, $1.6-billion Edison SmartConnect program will be funded by an approximate 1.6 percent increase in customer rates during the installation period. Edison says residents can use the new program’s tools to better manage their electricity usage and thereby offset the slight rate increase.
Push back against smart meters
Despite the benefits touted, not all residents have welcomed the idea of smart meters in their homes.
People have spoken out at City Council meetings and written Letters to the Editor citing concerns over a variety of issues, including exposure to radiofrequency waves emitted by the meters, Edison’s ability to monitor customer usage in realtime, issues with data security, and potential time-of-use rate increases.
Gonzales said the only data SCE is compiling is kilowatthour usage and the company releases no customer information except at the customer’s request.
As for radiofrequency waves, Gonzales said, the meters emit “considerably less than a cellphone and definitely less than a microwave” and at intermittent, not constant, intervals.
He said Edison will not and cannot regulate electricity usage, but some feel that making it more costly to use energy during peak hours does just that.
Due to concerns voiced by residents and local agencies, the CPUC approved an opt-out program for residential customers on April 19.
If an opt-out home already had a SmartConnect meter installed, the power company will have the smart meter replaced with the type of meter previously in place.
Those who requested to be on Edison’s Delay List while the CPUC considered the opt-out provision must now call SCE to actually opt out. If a resident does not call to enroll, their home will receive a smart meter.
But opting out comes at a price.
The CPUC established an initial opt-out setup fee of $75 and a monthly charge of $10 for manual meter reading. Qualified low-income customers can opt out at a reduced cost: a $10 setup fee and a $5 monthly charge. The fees will be added to customer’s monthly bill.
Many residents say they are being unfairly penalized for wanting to keep their analog meters.
The Ventura County Board of Supervisors and the Thousand Oaks City Council sent letters to the CPUC in favor of a no-cost opt-out provision. The City of Simi Valley sent a letter a few days after the commission’s April 19 decision, asking the commission to reconsider the opt-out fees. That hasn’t happened.
Edison said smart meters are now the standard and the cost for non-standard service should be borne by those who choose non-standard service.
“It would be unfair for those who took a smart meter to pay a cost associated with those who have chosen not to take a meter,” Gonzales said. “It is a fairness issue for our customers.”
The opt-out fees will be reviewed over time and if they are exceeding SCE’s costs, the CPUC will make adjustments, Gonzales said.
To enroll in the opt-out program, call (800) 810-2369. For more information, visit www.sce.com/smartconnect.