ARTICLE

What's the real cost of Alliant Energy's smart meter agenda?

What’s the cost? That’s the question before the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) as it considers Alliant Energy’s smart meter proposal.

The new smart meters allow the power company to remotely collect data and monitor their grid using radio frequency (RF) signals. But many aren’t convinced this is actually a benefit. Alliant Energy is now in the awkward position of having committed significant financial resources prior to receiving approval from the IUB. Smart meters are troubling many customers, generating a grassroots objection that far exceeds the typical grumbles that come with rate hikes.

Supposedly, smart meters are the wave of the future for more efficient management of the power grid. But if that were the case, you’d expect some of the savings to be passed onto customers. Instead we’re seeing the opposite, electric and natural gas rates are on the rise.

Alliant Energy is demanding more from their customers. That alone is enough to justify the smart meter skepticism.

Alliant Energy was thoroughly and rigorously cross-examined by smart meter opponents over three days of hearings before the Iowa Utilities Board. Both the Office of Consumer Advocate and a spokesperson for Alliant Energy told me they haven’t seen anything like it.

It’s not surprising, there’s a lot to be upset about.

Alliant customers reported billing statements that were two to three times the normal amount, and in some cases even higher, after the smart meter was installed.

Skeptics claim that Alliant Energy hasn’t been forthright, and have accused the company of misleading customers. For example, Alliant Energy’s website states that these “smart” meters will emit on average six or seven RF ‘signals’ a day, an average of 42 a week. Yet in testimony, Alliant revealed they have deployed meters with much higher numbers.

The RF signals are important because of growing concerns among experts and “safe technology advocates” that believe RF exposure harms health.

Alliant Energy also states on their website that the new meters will not collect personal information. But that’s an incomplete statement. The meters indisputably collect information which can form a very detailed picture of one’s habits and routines. At least the information is valuable enough where Alliant Energy obtained a license to sell the data to other interested parties. Of course, Alliant Energy has no plan to share those revenues with customers, evidenced by ever-increasing rates.

Activists have expressed concerns that the very nature of a “smart grid” exposes our vital infrastructure to cybersecurity threats. Just another reminder that we live In a day and age where hacking and cybersecurity breaches are occurring with increasing regularity.

The absolute worst part of it all is that Alliant quietly committed serious financial resources without having to answer any questions or offer any cost-benefit justification.

I’m hopeful the Iowa Legislature can get to the bottom of these concerns. Granting customers the final say on what’s installed on their home can alleviate these issues.

I’d like to see Alliant work with their customers, not against them.

Representative-elect

Jeff Shipley (R-Fairfield) represents District 82 in the Iowa House of Representatives. The district includes Davis and Van Buren counties, and the western two-thirds of Jefferson County. Shipley can be reached at jeff.shipley@legis.iowa.gov.