Adventures in Capitalism

Electric Meter Header

On Monday, Oncor electrical supplier installed my new Smart Meter electrical monitor.  Typing this makes me feel like I have an advanced engineering degree, but basically it means that they replaced the little thingy that spins outside my house to let them know how much to charge me each month for my electricity.  It might also appear that I just got some fun electronic gadget.  But really the only perk is that now they have all sorts of new and exciting ways of charging me more money.

Oncor has been preparing me over several years for this momentous event.  It all started a couple of years ago when I went to one of those fairs that towns in Texas love to have, like Grapefest, Peachfest, and any other word that ends in fest and allows the city to charge vendors for the right to charge exorbitant prices for turkey legs and lemonade.  I don’t remember which one I was at this time.  But right in the middle of the square, stood a mobile home-like trailer sponsored by Oncore Energy, the electrical provider.  I was pulled helplessly toward this shining beacon of applied technology.

Inside, the polo-shirted representatives told us all about new tech that would soon be available, and would transform life as we know it.  They showed a computer hooked up to the Internet which could turn appliances on and off.  I wondered why that was necessary when I could have just hit the on/off button, but it was through the Internet, so I smiled assuming that it must be awesome.

They showed our growing crowd of happy revelers a kitchen setup being monitored by a laptop, also hooked up to the Internet.  As the attendant turned on a lamp, we watched and oohed as the laptop showed the energy use increasing on a little display.  The nice promotion staffer explained that we would be able to monitor and control our energy usage from anywhere through the Web.

“That way,” she explained, “You can reduce your energy consumption at peak times when energy costs the most.”

“Umm, so you are saying that energy will now be billed to me at a variable rate according to when more people are using it?” I asked.

“Well, when these meters are installed, they will be able to change the price per kilowatt hour depending on when demand is highest.  That will help people conserve.”

“Charging more money for a product when I most want to use it sounds more like a good way for the power company to make money than a benevolent way to help me.”  I replied with a frown.

I walked away after assuring her that I knew it wasn’t her fault.  She was just a paid pitch-woman.  The thousands of dollars of Oncor’s money (which I have given them over the years) that they had tried to spend convincing me of the greatness of their new monitor had now created the opposite effect.  I was now paying close attention to how they were planning to take more of my money, while trying to convince me it was for my own good.  When they sent me a letter informing me that I wouldn’t receive mine until Fall 2010 made me both happy that I had over a year, and sad that doomsday was approaching.

Many lawsuits and TV news stories later, Oncore came and installed this new Orwellian reverse ATM at my house.  It came accompanied by a little door hanger explaining many of the details.  It told me that this new device would help me someday in the near future, to be able to monitor and control my energy usage through the Internet.   Oh and by the way, they would be charging me a monthly fee of over $2 for this new gadget through 2012.

So let me get this straight, Oncor will now not need to pay a meter reader to come to my house each month.  This gives them more money.  They will now be able to charge me more for my energy when I am using it most.  This gives them more money.  They can now slowly and quietly raise energy costs by bumping variable prices incrementally, giving me a constantly raising energy bill.  This gives them more money.  For the joy of taking more of my money, I get to pay Oncor each month for this new technology.  What a deal!

Knowing how much Oncor is looking out for me, I wish to kindly decline their benevolence.  They can pick up their new meter and reinstall my old one any day now.  Unfortunately though, I don’t get to opt out.  I have no choice in the matter.  Don’t you love capitalism? -Ryan