Massachusetts’ Smart Meter Math is Not So Smart
The deployment of wireless smart meters is an economic driver introduced via the Massachusetts Green Communities Act of 2008.
Worcester is the site of the National Grid smart meter pilot program. On Feb. 25th, 2016, Worcester’s Telegram and Gazette reported that, “Customers participating in the Smart Energy Solutions smart grid pilot program saved $1.25 million on their electric bills and enough electricity to power a local library for nearly a year, National Grid announced Wednesday.”
The article describes the pilot as “a $46-million, two-year pilot program run by National Grid” with “about 11,000 participating customers” in Worcester.
The program incorporates advanced “smart” technology – including smart thermostats, electric meters, smart picture frames, smart plugs and an online “energy portal” website – that provide participants with feedback on their energy usage. The program also offers time-varying electricity rates to encourage customers to conserve energy and to shift energy-intensive activities to times when there is less demand on the power grid.”
On March 10, Bridge Energy Group touted their contribution to the pilot, characterizing it as a $44M program with 15,000 smart meters that saved 11,000 residents about 2,300 megawatt hours of electricity.
Let’s do a little bit of math and some fact checking.
1. Cost of the program: reflected in media reports to range between $44M, $46 and $48M.
On March 16, 2015, National Grid petitioned the MA Dept. of Public Utilities for recovery of $11M additional costs for its Smart Grid Pilot Program through December 31, 2014. The pilot did not launch until January of 2015.
Therefore, reported costs have already increased to $55M, $57, or $59M before the pilot started, which National Grid intends to recover from ratepayers.
2. Number of smart meters and participants involved in the pilot:
The pilot program, designed to include 15,000 meters, is five times larger and more expensive than required by the Green Communities Act.
Recent reports characterize pilot participation as having been reduced to 11,000. The number of residents in Worcester beyond the target of 15,000 who dropped out of the program is unmonitored by independent regulatory oversight.
3. Basis of reporting for cost savings is unknown.
According to the Telegram and Gazette, only about 1,000 participants opted for the in-home technology option, while 10,500 are in the default billing plan. “In the Smart Rewards Pricing Plan (the default option and the choice of about 10,500 of the participants) customers pay lower rates for energy during the day, and even lower rates on nights and weekends. This is offset by increased rates during Peak Event hours (up to eight hours) on Conservation Days. National Grid can call up to 30 Conservation Days per year, and customers will be notified a day before a Conservation Day is called.”
This pricing structure, especially for residents who are not at home during the day, may account for a significant portion of the reported costs savings.
4. National Grid pilot results were previously misreported and exaggerated by industry
The number and length of peak periods requires further scrutiny to evaluate industry claims.
“An earlier version of this story said that ratepayers who used the Entryway demand response management hardware saved 20 percent more energy that those who did not. In fact, they saved 20 percent more energy than other ratepayers only during periods of peak energy demand.”
5. Rate case based on assumption of 29 years of life for the AMI meters is faulty
May 2012 testimony by former MA Attorney General Coakley notes, ”Substantially all of the old AMR meters that are being replaced for the Pilot are reusable and the new AMI meters can remain in service for 29 years on average” (http://web1.env.state.ma.us/DPU/FileRoomAPI/api/Attachments/Get/?path=11-129%2f53012aginbf.pdfpage 27),
While lobbying for additional funding for grid security in October, 2015, Bennett Gaines, Senior Vice President, Corporate Services and Chief Information Officer of FirstEnergy (the nation’s largest investor owned utility with 6 million customers), testified before federal regulators, stating, “These devices are now computers, and so they have to be maintained. They don’t have the life of an existing meter, which is 20 to 30 years. These devices have a life of between 5 to 7 years. ”
6. Pilot reporting does not reflect costs
As stated by the MA Attorney General, “ [Pilot] includes a $2.4 million education plan and a $1.154 million evaluation plan. The Education Plan does not inform customers of the costs of the pilot or the costs of deploying these meters and associated technologies, particularly the in-home technologies. As a result, customers will be incented to participate in a program at no apparent cost to them and without any understanding of the real costs and benefits associated with this particular program, let alone full deployment based on the results of this program.
If National Grid’s program is successful, the results will be questionable because the costs associated with its success are likely to be too high to be replicated in full deployment, at least for those devices other than smart thermostats that have been documented as significantly improving peak load reduction response.” http://web1.env.state.ma.us/DPU/FileRoomAPI/api/Attachments/Get/?path=11-129%2f53012aginbf.pdf, p. 18
7. National Grid has its own employees participating in the pilot program
This National Grid employee, who is not home during the day, received a “free” pool pump override switch and is receiving lower electricity rates, financed by MA ratepayers. http://www.telegram.com/article/20141128/NEWS/311289970/0/SEARCH
8. National Grid is reporting that residents “saved enough electricity to power the library for a year,”
without distinguishing between grid-based savings and savings directly attributable to smart meters.
9. Additional Concerns: Health and Environment
The MA DPU employed the services of a notorious career tobacco scientist to negate citizen safety and health concerns. The MA Dept. of Public Utilities misrepresented science concerning thermal and non-thermal impacts of non-ionizing radiation in its smart meter order 12-76-B, defrauding ratepayers and endangering a portion of MA residents experiencing adverse health impacts. Requests that the Baker administration and Legislature investigate fraud and endangerment by the MA DPU have been unsuccessful to date.
10. Additional Concerns, Human Rights Violations and Targeting of Worcester Residents
In response to reports that residents had been enrolled without knowledge and consent, several Worcester City Councilors requested that a process be employed to verify that residents were aware that they were in the pilot program, to no avail. Non-English speaking residents and other vulnerable populations are a concern. Due to the WiMax antenna network being tested in the Worcester pilot, residents beyond those receiving meters are non-benefitting and non-consenting participants.
The Worcester National Grid smart meter pilot program serves as a pivotal case study in the collusion of decision-based evidence making, regulatory capture, political ambition, and inadequate scrutiny by environmentalists.
The community of Worcester was misled about the intention, risks and benefits of the program.
Smart meters use unsafe technology and manipulative pricing structures to modify behavior of ratepayers to ultimately reward shareholders of investor-owned utilities.
In addition to questionable reporting of financial outcomes, there is no health or environmental monitoring for an initiative that is supposed to address the health and environmental impacts of the fossil fuel model. Americans reporting profoundly disabling harm are being thrown under the bus.
In a report about the FCC, Norm Alster of the Saphra Center For Ethics at Harvard wrote, “Let‘s be clear. … The problem is not technology, which unarguably brings countless benefits to modern life. The problem is with the over-extension of claims for technology‘s usefulness and the worshipful adulation of technology even where it has fearful consequences. Most fundamentally, the problem is the willingness in Washington — for reasons of both venality and naïveté — to give technology a free pass.”
Spending $55M, or $57M, or $59M to save customers who aren’t home about $100, for meters that will have to be replaced before they are paid for, on the basis of unsubstantiated health and safety claims, is bad math.
Don’t give the Worcester pilot a free pass.