BRADY — In October, the city council of this Central Texas town voted unanimously to purchase advanced electric meters, known as smart meters, for the city-owned electric utility. But some residents resisted, and the smart meter vote played a large role in last weekend’s recall of the city’s mayor and the electoral defeat of two council members.
Voters here passed a referendum last weekend to enshrine in the city charter the right of residents to refuse the installation of smart meters on their property. Sheila Hemphill, an organizer of the effort, called the victory her “San Jacinto.”
The reaction in Brady could signal a shift in the debate over smart meters, which collect detailed data on electricity use and transmit it to the utility using radio frequencies. A raft of bills were introduced during the legislative session that would allow individuals to keep their old meters for free, but all have faltered. Local resistance to smart meters, however, appears to be rising.
Advocates say smart meters, which are being installed statewide at the urging of the Texas Public Utility Commission, improve a utility’s efficiency.
Critics have raised concerns about health and privacy. They say they fear the cumulative effect of the meters’ radiation emissions. The Public Utility Commission found no health risks in a 2012 study that blamed social media for spreading inaccurate information.
Some critics have concerns about sovereignty; Texas, unlike other states, controls its own electricity interconnection. Thelma Taormina, founder of the We the People Are the 912 Association, a Houston-based Tea Party group that advocates for smart meter opt-out options, gained notoriety over a news report that when a meter installer arrived at her home, she met him carrying a gun. She said she was concerned about the role smart meters might play in the future.
“The ultimate goal of the smart grid, of which smart meters are a part, is to connect us internationally to share the power we generate with the world,” she said. Having its own grid provides the state with autonomy it would not have otherwise, she said. “We’ve survived all these years without being connected to another grid,” she said.“Why should we change that?”
John Fainter, the president of the Association of Electric Companies of Texas, which represents electricity distribution companies, expressed bewilderment.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “All our companies are interested in is selling electricity, accounting for it and getting paid for it.”
But resistance remains lively. Brady joins the Hill Country town Camp Wood, which placed a moratorium on smart meter installation in March. And Hemphill said residents of 23 counties have contacted her about replicating her efforts in Brady.
Utilities say a patchwork of old and new meter systems could lead to more cost and less efficiency. But the strength of the opposition leaves Fainter with a sense of resignation.
“It’s hard for me to be surprised about much these days," he said.