There are two recent news stories about what Oncor and PG&E are doing to respond to their smart meter customer pushback experiences.
Oncor Energy Delivery in Texas said it learned the hard way that perception is reality at least in the customer’s eyes according to spokesperson Carol Peters in a recent Intelligent Utility interview.
“Customers flip the switch and don’t forget about where the power comes from. It’s just not something you think about. So, when customers get angry, they want answers.” Peters said. ”We learned some lessons about ourselves during the smart meter response and the snowstorm. Customers want to hear from us. They want responses.”
She also said the utility was trying to change its culture to think about those it serves as “customers” not consumers. Oncor’s strategy is to expand customer engagement and tell its story to as many customers as possible. So Oncor called the media to watch side-by-side tests between digital smart meters and old analog meters to get the word out that its smart meters were accurate. But it also “fessed up” that about 1800 smart meter were installed incorrectly and reported that to the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) which hired Navigant Consulting last March to monitor and test smart meters installations by Oncor and utilities. So far about 1,400 Oncor smart meters Navigant has tested are working correctly and measured usage accurately and the total smart meters now exceeds 1 million.
So is the Bakersfield Effect just a public relations problem?
In California PG&E must file monthly reports with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) but customer dissatisfaction with smart meters has not abated. Three communities want moratoria on installing smart meters: San Francisco, Marin County, and Santa Cruz. Read the reports at http://www.pge.com/SmartMeterCPUCreports and weekly smart meter status at http://www.pge.com/myhome/customerservice/smartmeter/programdata/.
PG&E also seems to see this as a public relations problem since beyond testing meter accuracy, PG&E expanded customer answer centers in new deployment areas, added a dedicated smart meter customer call center, and more training for customer service representatives. Then came word that PG&E was creating a SmartMeter(TM) Technical Advisory Panel (TAP), a group of experts, regulators, business stakeholders and customers, “to review the impact of PG&E’s SmartMeter(TM) program on customers and help the utility follow best practices while rolling out the program across PG&E’s service area”.
The PG&E customer reaction is to ask “why is my bill going up?”
The bottom line is that the Bakersfield Effect is not just a public relations problem. But utilities do not want to irritate their regulators and politicians by telling customers that utility rates are going up because it cost more money to add all this renewable energy to the utility portfolio, pay for all the energy efficiency and demand response programs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and install all these smart meters.
That is an answer customers will understand. They won’t like it but they will get it.