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Snake Oil & Smart Meters

Customers deserve the straight truth about electricity costs.

Fortnightly Magazine - April 2008

consumers are skeptical? They’ve choked on the prescriptions of so many snake-oil salesmen that they don’t trust anybody anymore, least of all big energy companies and politicians.

But that skepticism shouldn’t stop the industry from making difficult decisions and struggling to earn customers’ trust. After all, can ratepayers trust the utility that analyzes smart meters primarily in terms of shareholders’ interests, and views tariff policies in terms of cash flow instead of sustainability and end-user economics? Can they trust the regulator who hides behind supposed lack of customer interest in smart metering (see “ The Policy ”), and thereby dodges the politically uncomfortable policy of making people responsible for their energy consumption?

This industry is at a crossroads. America is counting on utilities and regulators to make decisions that will ensure energy services remain affordable and reliable for the long term. The industry owes customers the straight story about electricity choices and costs, whether they want to hear it or not.

Moreover, it’s in the industry’s long-term interests to be straight with customers. Eventually they’ll find out whether we’ve sold them a fair deal or a bill of goods. And when the party’s over, we could have some explaining to do.