Smart move, but not for consumers – The Age

DO WE really want to check our smart meters every time we turn on the dishwasher, take a shower or toast a slice of bread?

Has anybody wondered why almost every power company and lobby group in the country is pushing for the introduction of smart meters? It is worth pondering, for government, it seems, is about to fail the public again over energy policy.

First it was a faulty regulatory system which gave rise to ”gold-plating”, or overspending on networks, and spiralling power bills. The increase in ”peak demand” remains the industry catch cry to rationalise its rampant spending, even though peak demand has actually been falling for three years.

But as the myth of peak demand is now harder to propagate, industry is pushing for smart meters. The smart meter is the next big ruse.

Smart meters and ”flexible pricing” merely shift the business risk from the company to the consumer. Like mobile phone bills, their sheer complexity will enable the promoter to game the customer.

Who will pay for the devices? Who will pay for the software upgrades? Where should the metering company sit, in an offshore structure? Should the device be company-specific?

The power lobby has done a first-rate job of spruiking the

smart meter regime to governments so far, despite the issues in Victoria, the only state where they have been installed.

”In my view, smart meters combined with flexible tariffs are the next ‘gold-plating’,” says Bruce Robertson, the industry critic from consumer activist group Manning Alliance who exposed the ruse of overspending.

”The generators already game the NEM (National Electricity Market) by withholding supply at peak times and so on. Smart meters combined with time-of-use pricing open up a whole new range of gaming possibilities.”

The consumer takes on all the business risk for a start, says Robertson. If a power station, for example, suffers an outage for whatever reason, consumers pick up the cost.

Wholesale electricity prices can be extraordinarily volatile (they can be as high as $12,500 per megawatt; although, perversely, the price per megawatt-hour can also be negative). Under a flexible pricing regime the customer pays for this, says Robertson.

”Just how much fun is it to get the family together to eat a turkey at Christmas only to find it will cost $50 to roast it because some technician at a power station dropped a spanner in the works?”

This story really only deals with the economic and market aspects of the smart meter. There is a human cost. In lifestyle terms, the implications of constantly checking, or worrying about not checking a meter, will affect a lot of people.

Who wants this hassle, when a simple peak and non-peak regime could be introduced? The customer would simply know that taking a shower at peak periods costs more.

Smart meters don’t come cheaply, as Victorians have discovered. Originally slated to cost $800 million, the state rollout is now shaping up at a cost of $2.3 billion.

Instead of seeing how things turn out in Victoria, however – and there have been a host of other concerns raised, from safety issues to privacy – the government seems intent on rushing headlong to push them into every part of the country.

A leaked letter to the Prime Minister from Martin Ferguson’s standing committee of energy and resources last week eulogised the smart meter as the solution to high energy prices.

”A confidential draft of a blueprint for Julia Gillard to take to next month’s Council of Australian Governments meeting reveals the Commonwealth is proposing to encourage a rollout of smart meters and other advanced systems so that consumers could sign up to packages with ‘time-of-use’ tariffs,” said a newspaper report.

There is little evidence yet that smart meters lead to lower energy bills. While we don’t know if they work, we do know that they are expensive – and that expense is borne by the consumer.

As IPART (Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal) says in its submission to the Senate inquiry, the logical thing to do, before rolling them out to the entire market, is to wait and see the results in Victoria. The rollout is scheduled to finish in 2013 and flexible tariffs will be introduced. What is needed is a cost/benefit analysis. What is the rush?

”The rollout of time-of-use meters should be at the discretion of the customer or their retailer rather than being mandated by governments or distributors,” says the submission. It is worth noting that, when it comes to the furore over electricity prices, IPART has consistently been on the right side of the debate.

For industry, smart meters promise enormous returns – and not just via tricky pricing opportunities and the transfer of risk to the customer.

Read the rest via Smart move, but not for consumers.


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12 Responses to Smart move, but not for consumers – The Age

  1. Brian says:

    This article encompasses the real problem with smart meters. This is the issue you should be focussing on.

    We have been forced to pay millions of dollars for something that is of no benefit to us but a huge benefit to the electricity supply industry and provides them with the tools to jack up prices through deceptive ‘time of use’ pricing plans. When they took over from the SEC, the power companies reduced the infrastructure build to save money rather than continue it to meet demand. That resulted in the increasing number of blackouts we experienced, especially during the summer months. Now they have to catch up on the infrastructure, they are finding that their past neglect is proving expensive. ‘Time of use’ pricing is a way to limit demand to match their past neglect on the infrastructure, whilst maximising revenue. It is only possible with smart meters and if you can con the state government into getting the mug consumers to pay for it, all the better.

    Here’s a prediction for you. Solar power systems are available with deep cycle lead-acid batteries. It would not be a huge jump to ditch the solar panels (the expensive bit) and charge the batteries from the mains. If they introduce ‘time of use’ pricing, you could charge your batteries off-peak and run your house off them during the day. If smart meters and ‘time of use’ pricing really is about demand management, my suggestion would be in line with that goal and would be encouraged. If it is about gouging consumers, my suggestion would undermine that and would be outlawed. My prediction – charging batteries off-peak to be used during peak periods will be outlawed.

    • Anonymous says:

      If 5 million Victorians could pay the Victorian Government a once off tax sum of $400 giving them a $2 Billion wasted expenditure to date recoup sum and with that the incentive to once and for all stop smart meters DEAD, I would be prepared to fork out to these rogues today.

      The meters just need to be STOPPED and REMOVED whatever the cost.

  2. Colin S says:

    Please click on the “Smart move, but not for consumers” link at the bottom of the above article, to read another 298 comments from a heap more disgruntled Anti “Smart” Meter persons, from the website.
    No-one is happy about it…………..and our numbers are growing!
    Spread the word!

  3. John says:

    I was listening to 3AW Neil Mitchel on radio today & he said they have passed the law where we no longer have the right to refuse Dumb Smart Meters. Can anyone verify this ? or is he out right lying to us making shit up.

    • Anonymous says:

      You should be asking “what law tells us that we no longer have the right to refuse”.
      The answer is NONE.
      Until these spin doctors (unfortunately most media) are prepared to state which law or Act in the state of Victoria you are you are not complying with, they’re just telling you lies and propaganda.
      It is illegal for anyone to force you to have a smart meter.

  4. Dom says:

    GET IT INTO YOUR HEADS we are one but we are many & together we REFUSE smart Meters & we win No smart meter at my address Ever it will not happen if they do put one in forcefully it will be broken i will take a hammer to the Wire Tap BUG Device just as they do in the movies when they discover they have been Bugged the installer would have to go through me first & i will not back down
    Get this So much for carbon tax & clean energy future they cut the insulation rebate scheme
    they cut the solar scheme
    they abandoned plans for a solar power station which would have provided clean energy to thousands of homes
    with the efficiency in todays appliances Energy demand has gone down
    yet prices are going up & they are spending it up big on new installer vans more employees
    & gold plating the power grid its not on Stop this Bull

  5. $2.3 billion for a roll out of smart meters in Victoria to ‘service’ 5.6 million people.

    A billion is 1,000,000,000 in Australia soooo …… assume 2 million households and the cost of a smart meter becomes about $1150 per meter.

    I would prefer that money to go towards a solar panel on the roof and no health problems.

    Why would a government want to tie us all in to a dependent power system when the average citizen would obviously be better off being independent of such a system.

    • Cedar Wilde says:

      I think the government is crazy to adopt this system. They have been persuaded that it is in their interests (interests of the power companies!) to go ahead with installing these meters but I think that their chickens are going to “come home to roost” and they will find that they have turned into vultures who will savage the government.

  6. Gwen says:

    This article confirms what we already know. They are deceiving the general public with false promises of lower prices. How will we be able to pay for any electricity when we become too ill to work because we are suffering electro magnetic radiation sensitivity? Well done SSM for keeping us up to date so quickly.

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