In December, the Texas Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved the creation and distribution of opt-out rules for electric consumers who oppose smart meter installations . The rules will go back for a final vote, but unfortunately it appears the PUC is moving in this direction and is not the first state to do so. As of spring 2012 Maine, Oregon, California, Nevada, Michigan, Vermont and Arizona were also introducing opt-out programs .
I support utilities fighting the opt-out clause for several reasons. Most importantly, forcing utility companies to retain use of old utility meters takes away from the societal benefits widespread smart meter deployment can provide. In terms of outage management, increased reliability, reduced congestion, and reduced peak demand that could lead to reduced energy prices and a reduced need for new peak power plants, smart meters are an important building block of the broader grid modernization effort.
Additionally, reading some customer meters on a monthly basis drives utility companies to retain additional utility vehicles and meter readers, and maintain two accounting systems, one for manually read data and one for the automated smart meter data. The cost of this effort depends on the alternative the utility chooses between installing an analog or digital meter, leaving the smart meter with the radio turned off, or changing the point of delivery, and includes the upfront costs of making these changes and the monthly cost of reading the meter. Hopefully the PUC will at a minimum decide this cost will be passed to the customer who decides to opt-out so that utility funds can be used to progress further into other smart grid technology.
One of two traditional arguments against smart meters is the health concerns of the radio frequencies emitted by the meters. The PUC has tried to communicate that meters are within the Federal Communications Commission’s standards for radio frequency devices. As shown in Figure 1 below, not only is RF exposure from smart meters less than RF exposure from a mobile phone, it is less than natural RF exposure from other humans and the planet . Certainly health reasons alone lack justification for the missed opportunities of the new smart meter infrastructure.
Figure 1. Comparison of RF Exposure Sources to Smart Meters 
The second traditional argument with respect to privacy concerns is stronger, however, the Texas Public Utility Regulatory Act (PURA) mandates the following, “All meter data, including all data generated, provided, or otherwise made available, by advanced meters and meter information networks, shall belong to a customer, including data used to calculate charges for service, historical load data, and any other proprietary customer information.” Furthermore, the PUC has given the customer power to authorize its data release to retail electric providers .
The second part of the privacy concern applies to cyber security. Fortunately, the first version of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) smart grid guidelines and standards has been released . Monitoring adherence to these guidelines is difficult, however, utilities have strong incentive to ensure the security of their new computerized systems and protect their investment. Thus for me, promoting improvements in security is better accomplished by supporting utilities in their efforts to create a smarter grid rather than obstructing them with opt-out rules.
For those that share my opinion, there may fortunately be a legal strategy for utilities to prevent the new opt-out clause. In a feasibility study conducted by Oncor at the request of the Commission, it was identified that “Texas law does not allow a regulatory agency to amend or rescind a final, non-appealable order,” which could apply to the original non-appealable Commission order that approved meter deployment to all customers in their service area .
 The Dallas Morning News. “Public Utility Commission approves writing rules for Texas smart meter opt-out.” http://www.dallasnews.com/business/headlines/20121214-public-utility-commission-approves-writing-rules-for-texas-smart-meter-opt-out.ece
 Black & Veatch. “The Opt-Out Challenge.” March/April 2012. Electric Light & Power. http://bv.com/docs/articles/the-opt-out-challenge.pdf
 Public Utility Regulatory Act, Title II Texas Utilities Code. September 01, 2011. pg 121. http://www.puc.texas.gov/agency/rulesnlaws/statutes/Pura11.pdf
 U.S. Government Accountability Office. “Electricity Grid Modernization, Progress Being Made on Cybersecurity Guidelines, but Key Challenges Remain to be Addressed.” January 2011. GAO-11-117.
 Public Utility Commission Interchange. “PUC Proceedings to Evaluate the Feasibility of Instituting a Smart Meter Opt-out Program.” 40190-326. http://interchange.puc.state.tx.us/WebApp/Interchange/Documents/40190_326_728872.PDF