In a wave of bad news for smart meters this summer, finally some good news. Smart Grid Today (subs. req’d.) reports that on Aug. 13, Texas Civil District Court judge Lorraine Raggio dismissed a class action lawsuit against Oncor that accused the utility’s new smart meters of overcharging customers. Raggio ruled that the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) was the proper venue for judging smart meters’ accuracy, or lack thereof. Unless the plaintiffs successfully appeal the ruling, it appears that utility regulators, not a judge or jury, will have the final say on the matter.
State PUC’s haven’t been the most friendly venues for utility smart meter plans lately (see Baltimore Gas & Electric). But Oncor does have a study verifying that the vast majority of its meters are working accurately to back it up. That independent analysis (pdf) by Navigant Consulting found that Oncor’s smart meters, mostly made by Landis+Gyr and supported by IBM and meter data management software startup Ecologic Analytics performed to a high degree of accuracy. The report also gave a clean bill of health to smart meters being deployed by CenterPoint and AEP.
California utility Pacific Gas & Electric is facing a similar class-action lawsuit, and the California PUC has announced plans (pdf) to reveal a similar report on PG&E’s smart meter accuracy on Thursday. PG&E spokesman Kenny Boyles said Monday that a state judge has said he’d like to see the report before he makes further rulings on the PG&E customer lawsuit. Whether or not the Texas decision plays into the future of the California lawsuit remains to be seen.
One thing’s for sure — both Oncor and PG&E are paying a lot more attention to customers when it comes to their multi-million smart meter plans. Oncor admitted early on that human error and less-than-stellar customer support played a role in upsetting new smart meter-enabled customers. PG&E has beefed up its customer relations to include a dedicated smart meter hotline and walk-in centers in Oakland, Fresno and, of course, Bakersfield, the home of the customers at the center of the class-action lawsuit.
It will be interesting to see how the Texas ruling affects smart meter deployments elsewhere. It’s almost certain that utilities would much rather argue their smart meter cases to the state regulators they’re used to dealing with, rather than a potentially hostile court system. However, those same utility commissions are increasingly demanding that utilities find a way to avoid putting the costs of smart meter upgrades on consumers, as recent decisions in Maryland and Hawaii point out.
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