When we aired the lastest segment on how much you’ll pay for CenterPoint’s new Smart Meters last week, I got emails from a lot of you.
Sam Karabasz wrote this one:
“Are you guys going to let them get away with … “no one has a clear answer” …why their project requires consumers in Houston pay 52% more than the people in Dallas. Are wage rates higher in Houston? Are the meters that much better? Sounds like an opportunity for an Investigative Reporter!”
Most of you agreed with Karabasz and said I let CenterPoint’s Floyd LeBlanc off too easy when he didn’t answer the question as to why Houstonians are paying almost double for the meters compared to what people are paying in the Dallas area.
What you didn’t see in the story (there’s usually quite a bit we can’t include because of time constraints) is that LeBlanc told me that he didn’t know the in’s and out’s of Oncor’s plans (the company installing the meters in Dallas). He said he could only talk about CenterPoint. He said with the cost of the equipment, installation and support for the meters, CenterPoint came up with the amount it needed for the project and it was approved by the PUC .
That’s exactly what happened with Oncor. They did the math, told the PUC how much they needed and the PUC approved the fees Oncor wanted to pass along to its customers.
When I called a spokesman for Oncor, they said they would also like to know why CenterPoint was charging so much more for its meters. They said if they could install them for less, then CenterPoint should be able to as well.
Karabasz, the viewer whose email I posted above, took it upon himself to write to the Chairman of the PUC Barry Smitherman. Smitherman replied very quickly. You can read his explanation below:
The price difference is due to a couple of issues. First, the back-office costs for CenterPoint were higher than that for Oncor. That is, the computers and systems that would actually collect and manage the data collected by the smart meters had a higher cost for CenterPoint. The second factor is that Oncor has nearly one million more customers among which it can spread out the total costs. Oncor has 3.2 million customers, while CenterPoint has 2.4 million customers. With a larger customer base, Oncor can keep its per-customer costs lower. In fact, if looking at just the meters, CenterPoint has a lower per-meter cost than Oncor. All of the parties in the proceeding agreed to the settlement in the case, which set out the costs for consumers. The parties included customer representatives such as the Office of Public Utility Counsel, the City of Houston, and the Gulf Coast Coalition of Cities. These parties all evaluated the proposal from CenterPoint to ensure that the costs were as low as possible. It should also be noted that the surcharge will be spread out over 12 years, and will only be $3.24 per month for the first two years before dropping to $3.05 per month for the remaining recovery period. Both proceedings were done in response to state legislation which encouraged the deployment of advanced meters. With advanced meters, customers will have the tools to better manage their electric bills by being able to monitor electric use in real time and make better informed decisions about different electric products. Consumers will also have the chance to participate in demand response programs or purchase energy efficient products that will work with the smart meters and lower their monthly bills.
If you have any other questions about smart meters or other electric issues, please let me know.
Chairman Barry Smitherman
Public Utility Commission of Texas
I do have to hand it to Smitherman for replying so quickly with a decent explanation. Maybe you should all call him directly when you have electric bill complaints that the PUC’s Customer Protection Division never investigates.
Check out all of our recent investigations into “Your Electric Bill.”