EDITORIAL: Smart meters are a dumb idea

Bureaucrats shouldn’t have control over the nation’s appliances

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Homeowners from coast to coast are growing upset over the “smart meter” devices that utilities are foisting on them by the millions, with the full backing of the administration. The meters are being marketed as energy savers enabling consumers to select a level of power usage and cost that best suits their needs. “We can imagine the day when you’ll be able to charge the battery on your plug-in hybrid car at night, because your smart meter reminded you that nighttime electricity is cheapest,” President Obama said in an October 2009 speech. Mr. Obama has used stimulus funds to push the technology, such as a $20 million grant to Reliant Energy for device deployment in the Houston area.

In green San Francisco, dwellers of the Richmond District are acting up against Pacific Gas and Electric’s push to install the “environmentally friendly” meters on their homes without their consent. Resident Kendra Lock was angry enough to block an installer from leaving the scene earlier this month after he hung a smart meter on her home, demanding that he remove it and reinstall her old one. In the city’s Marina District earlier this month, protesters picketed an installer’s truck, yelling and waving signs reading “Stop PG&E Smart Meters” and “Democracy of choice,” according to the San Francisco Examiner.

Nothing warms the hearts of liberals more than the sight of angry protesters confronting the establishment. But in the Obama era, liberals are the establishment - especially in one of the most left-wing cities in the nation. So it is with disbelief that the powers-that-be now find themselves the target of angry dissent over one of the most prized schemes in the environmentalist arsenal.

Smart meters also give the highly regulated utilities the ability to adjust and restrict the flow of electricity to customers. Some residents are wary that the ability to measure their energy consumption could be used to create a profile of their activities. Patterns of garage door opening, for example, could indicate when a home is empty and unprotected from burglary. In California and Texas, other consumers have seen their electric bills rise rather than fall after smart meter installation, belying the promise of savings. Energy audits have discovered some meters are defective, leaving utilities red-faced and offering refunds. The California Public Utilities Commission on March 10 ordered PG&E to come up with ways for customers to opt out of the meters and Maine’s Office of the Public Advocate on Tuesday chastised Central Maine Power for “bullying and intimidating” customers who don’t want the devices.

On the one hand, the administration is agitated over “cybersecurity.” On the other, it is creating a network that would allow malefactors to shut down air conditioners in the midst of a scorching summer day. Those malefactors might even work for the government. Obama energy czar Carol Browner told U.S. News & World Report last year, “We need to make sure that … eventually we can get to a system where an electric company will be able to hold back some of the power so that maybe your air conditioner won’t operate at its peak.”

As Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, pointed out in a heated congressional hearing last week, the left is fundamentally anti-choice. Despite the decades of rhetoric about “keeping government out of the bedroom,” the left wants Uncle Sam in every wall socket. It wants to deny you the ability to choose lighting, toilets, washing machines and dishwashers that work. Now they want to restrict even the ability to use these diminished devices. It’s time to pull the plug on mandatory smart meters.

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