Tax dollars for smart meters: passes the smell test

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Print this page Paula C. Squires

I like the idea of using hard-earned tax dollars for “smart” electric meters.  It makes a lot more sense than setting aside $1.8 million to study malodorous pigs. 

Seriously, that was one of the earmarks approved in this year’s fiscal 2009 appropriations bill. In a year of record deficits, sponsor Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) managed to persuade congressional colleagues that his home state — home to 20 million pigs — needs more research on swine odor and manure management. 

To me, that doesn’t pass the smell test. On the other hand, smart meters represent a Bridge to Somewhere. They would empower people to reduce energy bills and consumption by using electricity at off-peak times.

Dominion Virginia Power filed an application last week seeking $200 million in federal stimulus funds to help pay for the installation of 2.4 million smart meters in homes and businesses throughout Virginia. Company officials said the money would cover about a third of the $600 million price tag. Plus, Dominion could put meters in place a year ahead of schedule, by 2012.

Because smart meters can report information in real time, Dominion engineers could react accordingly. If everyone turned on their dishwashers at 6:30 p.m. or plugged in their hybrid cars, the flow of electricity could be adjusted efficiently, reducing waste.

It all sounds a bit like the space-age Jetsons, I know.  But here’s the best part. If an outage occurred after dark, people wouldn’t have to stumble around, trying to get to a phone to report the problem. The smart meter would do it for them. 

The Department of Energy is expected to decide on Dominion’s application this fall. Let’s hope it will be smart with our money. Otherwise, citizens need to raise a stink.  Deploying smart-grid technology is one way we can all play a role in reducing greenhouse emissions. And isn’t that more important than knowing, in Tom Harkin’s own words, “why pigs smell?” 

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