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San Antonio’s municipal utility says smart meters are a boon to the city and customers. Opponents say the devices are a boondoggle.

“While utilities promise the ‘smart grid’ will solve climate change, no independent evidence of energy savings have been demonstrated,” says Josh Hart, director of the California-based group Stop Smart Meters.

“The same story of financial fabrication — utilities playing fast and loose with the public purse — is being repeated across the country,” Hart told Watchdog.org.

With a new 12-page report, Stan Mitchell, a retired financial analyst living in San Antonio, accuses CPS Energy of engaging in “conscious obfuscation.”

The city-owned utility initially said installation costs of $290 million would be recovered over 12 years. But the calculations did not factor in financing costs, which will, by Mitchell’s estimate, extend the payoff period to 20 years.

Further, CPS assigned a 15-year lifespan to the meters, and did not include replacement costs in its accounting.

Hart said smart meters don’t last that long.

“While analog meters were built solidly of metal and glass and lasted 80-plus years, smart meters are made of plastic and vulnerable to melting and starting fires, and they need to be replaced every 5-10 years,” he said.

“In no universe is this a wise public investment, and represents a con and theft from the public purse.”

CPS spokesman Paul Flaningan told Watchdog the smart grid project will save the utility $2.20 for every dollar spent. Savings stem largely from the redeployment of meter readers and “improved meter accuracy,” he said.

Smart meter vendors say their devices “capture energy that was not monitored in the past by electro-mechanical meters.”

In the switch to digital meters, CPS acknowledged a few of the first 300,000 transitioned customers received sharply higher bills. Flaningan said some readings were erroneous; others were a “truing up” of actual usage.

Elsewhere, Hart said the “real world results of smart meter deployments have been fires and electrical hazards, huge costs and debts that utilities are having to pass on to consumers through higher rates and taxes.”

While providing central command and control for utilities, the new technology is vulnerable to hacking and cyber terrorism, Hart warned.

Flaningan said CPS has not sought a rate increase since rolling out its smart grid in 2010. The utility has not imposed any special charges to fund the project; users who decline to participate pay a fee to stay offline.

Through an online portal, smart meter customers can view their electrical usage every 15 minutes. “And we can pinpoint and address outages quicker,” Flaningan added.

Glenn Anderson, a San Antonio resident and former tech worker, said new readings have been “erratic within the same neighborhoods, based on differing computer programs.”

Mitchell called smart meters essentially “unauditable” and skeptics suspect San Antonio is setting up CPS’ new technology to boost municipal revenues.

As a city utility, CPS enjoys more latitude and less regulation than quasi-private power providers.

“Municipally owned utilities are ostensibly owned by the public, and because of this are not regulated like shareholder-owned utilities,” Hart explained. “When they become unresponsive to the public, they need to be met with a public backlash and electoral punishment.”

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