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Jeff Ackerman: Get Smart with PG&E meter

Not so sure I want a meter in my house that is smarter than I am.

That’s what PG&E has developed. They call it a SmartMeter and I assume it was designed to compensate for dumb occupants who may not know how to use a thermostat.

While I admit that I still have the instruction manual tucked right behind the thermostat upstairs, I’m pretty sure I’m smarter than a meter.

At least most meters.

Where SmartMeters seem to have an advantage is with children. Take mine, for example. My daughter is smart, but for some reason hasn’t figured out that she should close the sliding glass door to the deck when the air conditioning is running, or turn the lights off when she leaves a room.

A SmartMeter, especially one equipped with a voice, would come in handy during those instances.

“Hey, Lacey,” it might whisper. “Forgetting something?” Or … “Hey, Lacey. The sliding glass door is open and the cold air is leaving the house. Do you think that’s a good idea?”

Kind of creepy having a meter scold your kids, but if it saves money, who cares? She won’t listen to me, so maybe she’ll listen to a talking meter.

My son would be a little more challenging for the SmartMeter.

“Hey, Luke,” it might begin, recognizing that Luke has every single light in the house on when nobody’s home in the evening.

No answer from Luke because he has his earplugs in to his i-Pod.

“Hey Luke!” the SmartMeter would continue. “I’m talking to you!!!”

Still no answer. I could have told the SmartMeter that it’s almost impossible to get Luke’s attention unless you yank the earplugs out of his ears, but SmartMeters don’t have arms. At least not yet.

Had Luke heard the meter, he might have responded in his usual way.

“Leave me alone.”

“Luke,” the meter would have persisted. “The lights upstairs are all on and you are down here, not up there.”

“I know,” Luke would finally respond. “My dad will turn them off when he comes home, so shut up and mind your own business.”

SmartMeters don’t like being yelled at, so it would more than likely send an electrical surge powering right through Luke’s earplugs.

There is a downside to having a meter smarter than you are. In an age when most of us have already surrendered our privacy to Google, Facebook and satellites that track us through our cell phones (they know where we are at all times), it’s easy to understand how readily we have accepted a utility company attaching a device to our homes that allow it to track our daughter’s blow dryer, or my own hair trimmer (and … yes … I shave my own head with an electronic trimmer and PG&E knows it).

Kind of like having Hal in the house. Hal, as you recall, was the computer that took over the spaceship in 2001 A Space Odyssey.

“Jeff,” the Smart Meter would say, as I’m shaving my head. “You really should use scissors.”

“Scissors are too slow,” I’d try to explain to my Meter.

“Yes, Jeff. But scissors don’t use electricity. There are people in China with no power because you are shaving your head with electricity.”

“Go talk to Lacey. She is using a blow-dryer and listening to music at the same time and she doesn’t pay the bills!” I’d snap.

The Meter, as I said, doesn’t like getting yelled at, so it would power down my electronic head trimmer just enough for it to gash my scalp.

PG&E, which has partnered with Google and Apple to take over the world, says the Meters are not designed to invade our privacy and that the Italians and Japanese have been using SmartMeters for years now (which might explain the unusual behavior among the Italians and Japanese these days). They are, according to literature, designed to track consumption so PG&E can charge us based on how much we use and when we use it and not, as is the case today, based on a hunch.

The meters are being installed in an estimated 9 million Northern California households that PG&E serves. They say the meters are really intended to re-train us by jacking up the bill if we are shaving our heads, for example, during peak periods (a peak period is when everyone in Los Angeles has the air conditioner running at the same time because they can’t breathe outside). By logic, if you get a bill for $1 million you are likely to look for ways to cut back.

Unfortunately, I know a lot of people who have already cut back and they didn’t need a Smart Meter to encourage them. In this economy more and more are making tough decisions: “Should we buy food, or should we stay home and run the air conditioning?”

At the end of the day, most of us don’t have a choice. PG&E owns the meters and if they want to put a flying monkey on the meter they will and there’s not a whole hell of a lot you can do about it.

So dummy up and let the SmartMeter do its thing.

Jeff Ackerman is the editor/publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299, jackerman@theunion.com, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.