Smart Meters Increase Bills?

10:27 AM, Jul 27, 2010   |    comments
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  • Roderic Clinkscales shows us the new smart meter that he blames for higher bills.
  • Wil Osbourne with Georgia Power responds to complaints and prepares to install a test meter to check the smart meter's accuracy.
  • Richard Herrmann believes his smart meter is a dumb idea.
  • Test meter is put on Richard Herrmann's house.

ATLANTA - Are smart meters a dumb idea? Some utlility customers in the Atlanta area think so.

We've been getting complaints from people telling us that ever since the smart meters went in their bills have gone up. Some even tripled. "I didn't comprehend that I wasn't really going to save as much as I thought I was going to save," Richard Herrmann of Dawsonville told the Center for Investigative Action. His bill tripled after the smart meter was put in.

Is it a problem with the meters or a problem with consumer's understanding of how they are supposed to work?

To understand the problem you first have to understand the meters. The smart meters are a digital replacement of the old dial meters most of us have had for years.

The digital meters send a signal to the power company several times a day, to indicate how much power a customer is using and when. That's important because Georgia Power has a program called 'Nights and Weekends' which charges customers less for power used in off peak hours. Without the new smart meters, the power company wouldn't be able to track that peak usage.

Georgia Power believes the hot weather and consumers lack of understanding about how to conserve power during peak times may be the reason behind the high bills.

Lynn Wallace with Georgia Power says when customers complain they will do an assessment on their energy usage and if questions are raised about the meters accuracy they'll respond. "We've also put test meters on locations where customers say they've had some questions," she said.

That's what was done for Richard Herrmann. The test meter remained on his house for a week and it displayed the same kilowatt hours used as the new smart meter. Herrmann says he's now dropped the 'Nights and Weekends' program, because it didn't save him money, but he may give it another try.

Other utility customers like Roderic Clinkscales of Atlanta are not convinced. He says every morning, he turns off all his power at the breaker switch, except for the fridge and then turns it on when he returns at night. 

Georgia Power says it will do an assessment on his usage but recommends you never completely turn off the AC in hot weather because the system has to work overtime to cool when it's turned back on.

Click here to see more power saving tips.  

To use the smart meter program's 'Nights and Weekends' effectively, you essentially have to limit all power use during peak hours. Set your thermostat to 78 degrees in the summer heat. If you think you can run the air longer during non peak hours, you may erase any savings you got limiting use during peak times. Richard Herrmann thinks that's why his bill was so high, because he was pre-cooling his house longer in the mornings.

Georgia Power has installed more than 1 million smart meters and plans to do more than another million by 2012.  However, we are still monitoring the situation.

California's Utility Commission is currently investigating complaints about smart meters causing high bills but Georgia's Public Service Commission says it hasn't seen the same problems here.

If you've seen higher bills and have concerns, we want to hear from you.

To learn more about the smart meter click here.

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