Friday, March 5, 2010

What smart meters say about breath test machines

In the face of rising complaints, and electric bills, the Texas Public Utilities Commission is bringing in an outside agency to determine whether the so-called smart meters are accurate. Homeowners and businesses in Houston and in North Texas have flooded power providers and line companies with complaints over (absurdly) high electric bills since the meters were installed.

In many instances homeowners and businesses saw electric bills for December and January that were higher than summertime bills. Centerpoint Energy (who manages the power lines in Houston) claims that the meters are accurate and that electric consumption rose due to the historically cold winter in the Houston area.

Maybe, but maybe not. My office is in a building behind a Victorian house in the Historic Houston Heights. The main house is about 2800 square feet, my office suite about 500. For the last two months, the electric bill for my office has been more than the electric bill for the main house. All of that juice for an office with one computer, two printers, one telephone and a thermostat set at 68 degrees. Something isn't adding up.
Company spokesman Floyd LeBlanc said CenterPoint is “extremely confident” in the accuracy of the meters but will take part in the third-party testing.
And that brings me to my point. Just because someone tells you an electronic device is accurate doesn't make it so. In a drunk driving case, the state's expert will tell the jury that the state's breath test machine was operating properly at the time of the defendant's breath test and that the machine is both reliable and accurate. Really? How so? What proof beyond the numbers of a slip of paper is there that the machine does what it's advertised to do?

There is no preserved sample that can be retested. The machine purges the breath sample after it tests it and all we are left with is a number. The same thing with the new smart meters. As long as Centerpoint says the meters are accurate you'd be hard pressed to prove otherwise. There is no way to go back and calculate how many kilowatt hours were used during the month. There is no way to replicate the usage and remeasure it with another device. There's nothing but a slip of paper with a bunch of numbers.

I guarantee that there will be at least two or three people on a jury panel that don't think the smart meter installed on their home is accurate. I guarantee you that they aren't happy about their electric bills. I guarantee you that they are angry because they can't prove the bills are wrong.

Mr. Juror, if the government tells you a device is accurate and reliable, would you take that assurance at face value? What if it was a utility company that said your electric meter was accurate and reliable, would you take them at their word?

See also:

"Public Utility Commission orders tests of smart meters" Dallas Morning News (Mar. 5, 2010)
"State regulators to test smart meters" (Mar. 5, 2010)

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