A growing consumer backlash against new wireless digital technology for measuring power usage is slowing U.S. utilities’ $29 billion effort to upgrade their networks.
States including California, Maine and Vermont have responded to customer concerns about higher bills and safety by offering them the option of keeping their conventional devices for an extra charge.
The fee may discourage drop-outs from the “smart-meter” program, in which household usage data is transmitted over radio waves to local utilities such as PG&E Corp. (PCG), Central Maine Power Co. and Central Vermont Public Service Corp. (CV), which can use the information to charge higher rates during times of peak demand.
“Charging fees for opting out is pretty outrageous,” Charles Acquard, executive director of National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates, which represents 44 consumer groups in 40 states, said by telephone.
Escalating consumer opposition is delaying efforts to deliver power more efficiently because the gadgets anchor next- generation transmission grids. Several utilities, including one owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK/A), are holding off on roll-out plans until regulators decide whether they can force consumers to pay costs for the technology that utilities also refuse to pick up.