Consumer frustration grows over 'smart' meter bills



Posted on March 14, 2010 at 10:09 PM

Updated Monday, Mar 15 at 2:29 PM

DALLAS — Ree Wattner stands at the head of the movement questioning the accuracy of new "smart" electric meters being installed across North Texas.

Her first step was to call the state agency overseeing power companies, the Public Utility Commission. She filed what she thought was a formal complaint.

"They assured us that we had a complaint," Wattner said.

Later, however, she learned that her call wasn't classified as a "complaint," but rather as an "inquiry" — a less severe category where nearly 600 smart meter calls have been filed.

"I know our complaint — thought it was a complaint — turned out to be an inquiry," Wattner said. "It was opened one day and closed the same day, so I have no idea what they're doing."

How that call gets classified matters, because it determines how much attention that particular case gets.

Formal complaints get extra reviews, where a staffer may, in some cases, intervene and suggest the utility not shut off a customer's power until the conflict can be resolved.

Wattner hoped filing complaints would buy consumers who are struggling with unexpectedly high power bills more time.

"I've got people calling me all the time and saying, 'What am I going to do about my utilities? How am I going to pay my electric bill?' We thought we had a solution to it with the PUC, but we don't — and it's very frustrating," Wattner said.

The PUC says it is taking all complaints extremely seriously, and is even launching its own investigation into the smart meters controversy.

But he agency says specific cases must have clear evidence of wrongdoing to merit a formal complaint.

The PUC insists that customers who receive a disconnect notice do get more attention, but even as the state questions the smart meters, regulators say the message, for now, is: Keep paying.