The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission gave final approval to Duquesne Light Co.‘s plan to replace old analog meters with "smart meters." The advanced meters are designed to help customers and utilities better track energy use.
Critics think the "smart meters" will invade the privacy of customers, drive up energy bills and present safety risks, such as radiation emissions and potential fire hazards. Some meters caught fire after they were installed for Philadelphia’s PECO, but the utility is no longer using the manufacturer of those devices.
"We see it as a tool to help consumers reduce their energy usage and increase efficiency in their homes and businesses," said PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher.
The smart meters will collect and share data on an hourly basis. Duquesne Light spokesman Joey Vallarian said that will allow customers to track usage and costs online in almost real-time. The meters also could help shorten some outages, as the company will be able to better pinpoint where they occur.
The meters will enable Duquesne Light to charge different rates based on the time of day. Running a washing machine or dishwasher will cost more during hours of peak energy usage.
"It’s like they’re telling you when you can use your electricity," said Lisa Verlato Nancollas, 49, of Lewistown in central Pennsylvania, who started a website and online petition to oppose the 2008 state law that required Pennsylvania’s seven largest electrical utilities to switch to smart meters.
Nancollas thinks customers should be able to "opt out" of getting a smart meter, something not allowed now.
Pennsylvania’s Acting Consumer Advocate Tanya J. McCloskey said workers would have to go out to read those customers’ meters, likely resulting in an added "opt out" fee.
Duquesne Light becomes the third utility to receive the final go-ahead, following PECO and PPL in eastern and central Pennsylvania.
Vallarian said the company plans to install its first 5,000 meters this year and replace meters for all 585,000 of its customers in Allegheny and Beaver counties by 2020. He did not say when or where the work will start.