A question has been raised in New Zealand whether the primary motivation for smart meter installations is so power companies can recoup funds from customers where were undercharged previously.
Three major utilities – Contact, Genesis, & Meridian – are all installing smart meters throughout New Zealand claiming the devices will conserve energy and save money for customers. The devices allow for remote meter reads so human meter readers don’t have to be sent out. The smart meters also use information technology to record and display power usage.
Jan Wright, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, said complaints have been received from customers and others who are worried about the cost and effectiveness of smart meters. “The latest one was from a resident who asked the technician installing his meter what benefits he was likely to gain as the consumer, and was told ‘none’.” Wright made his remarks in an interview with The Dominion Post.
Louise Griffin, spokeswoman for Contact Energy, said the utility has installed 48,000 smart meters in Christchurch and that a rollout nationwide is planned for 2010. The knowledge that billing is precise and free of human error should benefit Contact customers.
Griffin said that 4000 customers had their tariffs updated but couldn’t determine how many were previously undercharged versus how many had been overcharged. Customers that were being overcharged received a refund but those that weren’t paying enough had their charges written off.
Richard Gordon, spokesman for Genesis Energy, said he wasn’t aware of any issues with customers paying more after smart meters were installed. The utility has installed between 25,000 and 30,000 smart meters in the Auckland region and has begun installations in Wellington.
Alan Seay, a spokesman for Meridian, said some 4500 customers in Christchurch had been sent letters informing them that their tariffs would increase once the smart meters were installed because they were undercharged previously. Seay added that this group represents a small portion of the 112,000 customers who already have the new meters that allow for much more accurate billing.
Seay said that old conventional meters may have slowed down over time and did not accurately record the amount of energy consumed. Homeowners that had these very old meters would find that they are paying more once a smart meter was installed because of the increased accuracy.
In general, however, Seay said that smart meters would help energy consumers reduce their energy bills. Meridian has installed 6000 of the devices in Central Hawke without any problems.
Wright is concerned that customers were only told of the undercharging after the smart meters were installed. “Is this the real reason retailers are rushing to get so-called smart meters installed in New Zealand homes?”
Wright believes that when new smart meter technologies are developed and prove to be cost-effective and beneficial to the environment that consumers will face retrofitting costs of their obsolete smart meters.
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