Get smart

Controversy over smart meters brings documentary to town

The RN&R office has a smart meter.

The RN&R office has a smart meter.

Photo By sage Leehey

Take Back Your Power will play at King Buffet, 3650 Kietzke Lane, on Aug. 6 at 6 p.m.

Take Back Your Power (TBYP) is an independently produced documentary about issues surrounding smart meters that are being installed by major utility companies globally, including NV Energy.

“The film uncovers alarming issues about health, privacy, property rights, corporate fraud, and vulnerability issues inherent in the ’smart’ grid,” reads the film’s website.

Smart meters track energy usage and report it back to NV Energy for billing purposes. Installation began in Nevada in 2010 by NV Energy through a program called NVEnergize. NV Energy received a federal grant of $139 million, which will pay for nearly half of the $303 million program, according to NV Energy Public Relations Manager Jennifer Schuricht.

“The grant money has strings attached,” said activist Joannah Schumacher said. “They have to have a certain percentage of people who have the smart meter installed on their home in order to get their mitts on this $139 million.”

Local citizen activists Schumacher, Carole Fineberg and Juanita Cox have been fighting forced smart meters in homes since the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) began having hearings about them and have helped to get the film to Reno.

They spoke about how it seems odd that the smart meters are non-optional and that you have to opt-out of the program instead of opting-in.

“If a smart meter is so great, why aren’t people going, ’Oh please, put a smart meter on my home’?” Schumacher said. “If it was so healthful, if it would really help you save energy, I think anyone would want them.”

But NV Energy sees the smart meters as revolutionary. Schuricht stated that the reason the meters were installed was because this new technology is “transforming [the] industry, allowing [NV Energy] to better engage our customers and operate more efficiently” and that NV Energy was the first investor-owned utility to receive a grant for their smart meter program.

The trial opt-out program was initiated in late 2012 in the face of strong opposition to these meters, but it lasts only four years, ending Dec. 31, 2016, when the program will be evaluated by the PUC from data collected from NV Energy during the trial period.

If residents do not wish to have a smart meter during this time, they will receive a refurbished analog meter in place of their old analog meter (or smart meter). The refurbished meter doesn’t transmit data, so it must be read manually like past analog meters. But they cannot store data. Schuricht stated that the reason all analog meters will be replaced is because the PUC selected the refurbished analog meters as the non-standard metering option.

If you choose to opt-out, you will have to pay a one-time charge of $52.44 and a monthly recurring charge of $8.72, according to the PUC’s website. (Southern Nevada’s charges are slightly higher.) The monthly recurring charge is on top of normal charges for usage and your basic service charge on your bill.

Cox believes these charges disallow poorer individuals to choose to opt-out of a smart meter.

“It’s so frustrating for me, as an activist, when I see that this corporation, for their own financial reasons, is harming the poorer people—I just go out of my mind,” Cox said.