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Simpson's bill targets utilities' smart meters

By by Peggy Jones
Feb. 13, 2013 at 11 p.m.

State Rep. David Simpson filed legislation earlier this week that would require utility companies to let customers opt out of smart meters or have them removed at no cost.

House Bill 1171 is the most aggressive measure filed this session in protecting utility consumers' rights regarding the advanced smart meters.

A similar bill filed by state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, would require customers to be able to opt out of having smart meters, but would not exempt customers from having to pay to opt out as Simpson's bill would.

Scott McCloud, spokesman for AEP Southwest Electric Power Co. - which services much of Northeast Texas - said the utility company does not have any smart meters installed in its system.

Its sister company, AEP Texas, has installed smart meters across much of its service area in South and West Texas.

Simpson, R-Longview, said Wednesday that the price of opting out should not be borne by the consumer and, he said, if a smart meter is installed and a customer does not want it, the company should be required to remove it or not use it at no fee to the consumer.

"My bill says if they don't grant the opt out, or remove the meter if it's already installed if the customer wants it moved, they are responsible for property damage and personal injury," Simpson said. "There have been incidents of fires related to parts of the devices, and there are health concerns."

Proponents say smart meters help consumers save electricity by monitoring their real-time consumption. The utilities can also save money by eliminating meter readers, because they receive the data electronically. And, they can be used to automatically monitor outages.

Opponents say smart meters can be an invasion of privacy, and those that transmit wirelessly emit dangerous radiation.

"Some people have pacemakers, for example, where doctors have directed them not to be around RF emitting devices. Though they may be a small portion of the population, it's a legitimate concern," Simpson said.

Wireless smart meters operate on a radio frequency, similar to cell phone technology, Simpson said.

"I'm not a scientist or a doctor, but I think for people who have doctors' directives not to be around this type of radiation, that should be respected. Even if it's a small amount or small population, people ought to have the choice," he said.

"We want to protect the freedom and privacy of utility customers and citizens in the state," Simpson said. "My bill is about freedom and responsibility. If they take the freedom of choice away, my bill makes them responsible for injury and property damage."



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