The Wall Street Journal reports that some customers are resisting a California utility company’s transition from traditional utility meters to digital, or “smart” meters. I’ve spoken about the privacy issues connected with smart meters and smart grids before. (“Smart grids” are the case where utilities would be able to collect granular data about consumers’ energy consumption — down to the daily electricity use by the fridge in your kitchen or the TV in your bedroom.)
Recently, the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel, a subgroup of NIST’s Cyber Security Working Group, released “Guidelines for Smart Grid Cyber Security: Vol. 2, Privacy and the Smart Grid.” This sets out guidelines “for individuals and organizations who will be addressing cyber security for Smart Grid systems. This includes, for example, vendors, manufacturers, utilities, system operators, researchers, and network specialists; and individuals and organizations representing the IT, telecommunications, and electric sectors.”
The Journal reports:
PG&E, through its Pacific Gas & Electric Co. unit, plans to install 9.3 million digital electric and gas meters—otherwise known as “smart” meters—by 2012 as part of a statewide effort to modernize the electric grid and give consumers better tools to control energy use. […]
Unlike old meters that must be read manually, the new ones wirelessly transmit readings, allowing utilities to charge higher prices when they want to discourage energy use or give price breaks to favored uses, like running appliances or charging electric cars during off-peak hours.
Complaints about meters began surfacing in California in mid-2009, when customers in Bakersfield began noticing unusually high power bills. More recently, customers in some Bay Area cities have complained about health problems that they attribute to radio transmissions from wireless meters, and have expressed fears that the meters threaten privacy by theoretically making it possible for hackers to intercept data transmissions.
PG&E says these fears are unfounded and that the meters have been thoroughly tested and have robust security. […]
PG&E officials, to date, aren’t allowing cities and individuals to opt out of the program, and it isn’t clear what force of law city ordinances might have. The state commission has jurisdiction for most utility matters.