Friday, May 11, 2012


What could possibly go wrong with implementing a Smart Meter program?

by Henry Curtis

Maui’s Karen Chun (M.S. mechanical enginnering) wrote: “Smart meters should lead to more refined dispatching of fossil fuel plants which, in turn would allow more nonfirm renewable (solar & wind).”

Kauai’s Scott Mijares noted that “KIUC has failed to prove to its member/owners specifically how the installation of smart meters will reduce our dependance on foreign oil or even lower our bill. What smart meters will do is allow KIUC to micro-manage the distribution of electricity to it's members.”

Is it reasonable for Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) to ask their ratepayers to finance Smart Grid / Smart Meter programs? What could go wrong? Are the fears justified? Could history repeat itself?

The Oil Embargoes of the 1970s sparked the 1978 Hawai`i Constitutional Convention to include an energy self-sufficiency clause in the state constitution. HECO created the HEI Holding company (1981-83) and informed the 1984 Legislature than HECO would be 100% renewable by 2000.

HECO asserted that as an unregulated parent company, HEI could set up HECO sister companies focusing on renewable energy. Instead, HEI went into shipping, banking, insurance, and real estate.

At the turn of the century HECO asserted that an unregulated child rather than an unregulated parent was the solution. Renewable Hawai`i Inc. (RHI) was created and in a decade has done little if anything.

In 2008 HECO signed the HCEI agreement with the State. HECO wanted decoupling, whereby sales would not impact revenue. Sales had peaked in 2006 and as they dropped, rates would automatically rise to guarantee constant revenue. The utility asserted this would make them agnostic about interconnecting more renewable energy to the system.

DBEDT argued before the PUC that these financial rewards should be given to the utility based on HECO’s achieving specific benchmarks. HECO and the Consumer Advocate convinced the PUC not to do so, to give HECO their financial rewards before achieving any renewable energy benchmarks.

At HEI’s Annual meeting held earlier this week, HEI stated that for each of the past 6 years, HEI has achieved profit margins exceeding the national utility average return. HEI has also achieved reduction in risk (usually higher returns are associated with higher risk, but apparently the PUC has rewarded higher returns for lower risks).

HEI Chair Connie Lau is the highest paid CEO in Hawai`i, she makes over $100,000 per week.

The HCEI Agreement calls for market regulation of greenhouse gases, the elimination of net metering, and tax subsidies for tropical rainforest biofuels.

The HCEI Agreement also calls for billions of dollars of ratepayer money for Smart Grids. The idea is that we should give the utility billions of dollars so they can build hardware and software that could, theoretically, in the future, lead to higher renewable energy penetration levels. We should trust the utility, but not tie the expenditures to any actual performance metric.

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Aloha Henry,

Your article here establishes HECO has a history of promising the public more than it can deliver and that it maneuvers in order to maximize profits. Obviously, we should be very skeptical of everything it claims, especially when it presents itself as committed to converting to alternative, clean energy.

I embrace your skepticism. But now, I await your skeptical examination of the pluses and potential drawbacks in a large-scale switch to smart meters. To help you get started, I suggest for a title of THAT commentary, "What Could Possibly Go Wrong with Implementing a Smart Meter Program?"

Much aloha for all you do. When you are "on," you are often SPOT ON. But sometimes, I miss the point.

How long do we need to allow HECO/HEI/RHI, the PUC, the Consumer Advocate (why are they called that anyway - to make us think they are actually advocating for the consumers?), the HI State government, i.e., the PUC, to keep getting away with robbery? Wake up Hawaii!

Connie Lau's salary is obscene!

I'm glad Henry picked up on my emphasis on "should" in my comment supporting smart meters. I've been dismayed at the way the "Consumer Advocate" has sold us out again and again to corporations.

For those who are believing that the Assoc. of Environmental Something-a-ruther is a respected SCIENTIFIC's NOT. So don't expect people to believe anything that comes out of it which is entirely based on anectdotal "evidence" which isn't evidence at all.

I'm not going to argue that the radio frequency (RF) radiation from smart meters is absolutely guaranteed to have no effects other than thermal (the main claim by opponents) but there is, to date, no scientific study showing an effect.

And when you realize that cell phones and microwave ovens emit far, far more RF than smart meters, I can't take opponents seriously unless they first take on cell phones and microwaves and work to ban them. And also work to ban broadcast radio stations and submarine communications which are also zapping them at this very moment.

The second argument against smart meters is that they increase grid vulnerability to terrorism. This is just not true. What IS true is that increasing interconnectivity has the potential to expose the grid to more opportunities for widespread outages (either accidental or sabotage).

Here in Hawai'i widespread interconnection is not a factor (until and if the undersea cable is deployed - in which case I'd be far more worried about Rimpack exercises cutting the cable like it is theorized they did to our communications cable)

Smart meters send info at 15 minutes (about) intervals on what a building is using and generating. With that information, we can integrate more nonfirm solar and wind into our grid and hopefully reduce spinning reserves (thus oil use)

They are the tool that allows us to implement interruptible power which decreases the need to install more firm capacity (which at the moment is provided ONLY by diesel, coal and a small amount of geothermal on the Big Island) Yes - there is a coal-fired plant on Maui.

The third concern of opponents is that law enforcement will monitor electrical use and bust pot growers. Law enforcement still has to get a warrant for this. And I don't understand how 15 minute information is going to be any more indicative of a grow operation that the building's giant monthly bill.

Along with that, opponents posit that some sophisticated burglar ring will somehow intercept this info and use it to burglarize your house or office.

Somehow I doubt they'd go to all this trouble when they could just knock on the door to find out if you are at home.

Kolea, I share your distrust. Now that the big oil companies (Shell, etc) have jumped on the "renewable energy" bandwagon, we're seeing giant. expensive projects (Big Wind on Lana'i and Moloka'i and what was formerly a Shell wind project on Maui) that are, by their very nature, designed to shovel money into corporate pockets and rip off the rate payers.

Worse yet, the taxpayers are being asked to subsidize these projects (in addition to seeing their utility bills grow)

Where I part company with FOL and AIM is the blanket categorization of Wind as useless. Local wind, which benefits the community surrounding it. is good. Big projects that pave one-fourth of an island over with wind turbines giving no cost savings to the local community, raising rates for Oahu people and taxpayers are bad.

There is no absolute black and white -- each project should be evaluated on the merits which should include benefits to the local community, lowering of rates and good return on any taxpayer investment. Big Wind on Moloka'i and Lana'i fail on all criteria.

$100 grand a week? I know that's not a typo, right? Good Lord.

I don't want a smart meter installed at my home. Those things are making people sick on the continent AND they are privacy intruders. People should be given the choice of OPTING OUT of a smart meter and keeping their old meters. If I won't be given a choice then get me off of the grid! I shouldn't be forced to hook up to a service that I don't want. jlk

Utility has chosen to use Smart Meters that can analyze 15 minute data today.
To run a grid you need 2 second real-time data.
Install Smart Meters today, refine the date collection, Gather 2 second data in 5 years.

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