Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Changing the Corporate Mindset

Central Maine Power company, the corporation that owns the power lines all across Maine (i.e. they own the equipment that delivers electricity to my house, but they do not generate any electricity themselves), has decided that they are going to streamline their operation.

I recently discovered (through my homeschool e-list, no less - those homeschoolers are so smart and connected :) that CMP has decided to change all of our meters to SmartMeters.

For the person who posted the news to the homeschooling list, the issue centers around the SmartMeters' potential health risks. Apparently, the meters emit some amount of radiation, and the suggestion is that it's in excess of what similar electronic equipment emits and potentially hazardous to the health of those within a close proximity to the meters, especially children.

CMP argues that things like cell-phones, WiFis, televisions, laptop computers, and microwave ovens also emit radiation, but the opponents suggest that the amount emitted by the SmartMeters exceeds what these other, commonly used, devices emit.

The other concern is with regard to information security. The SmartMeters are kind of like little computers that send information back to CMP through radio transmitters (and are a bit like wireless Internets in this case), and that our personal information can be, therefore, compromised by someone who has the knowledge to hack into the system. An additional consideration with regard to the way the meters work is that with not a lot of effort, a hacker can disable the entire system.

Personally, I'm more concerned about the security issue than I am about the health issue, especially since Identity Theft seems so prolific these days and can take years to repair the damage done from one thief with a single credit card. As for the health concerns that have been raised, the fact is that we are pretty much surrounded by radiation emitting equipment on a daily basis whether *we* personally use them or not. I don’t have a cellphone, but nearly every one every where I go does, and so, it’s likely that I’m being negatively affected by those other people’s decision to have one. The same is true of wireless Internet connections. Even if I didn’t have one in my house, my neighbors do, and nearly everywhere we go these days, there is a WiFi.

Still, I can limit my exposure by being careful about where I go, and at the moment, I still have the freedom to pick and choose the establishments I patronize. It’s kind of like second-hand smoke, and until we outlaw all radiation emitting electronic devices from public places, we’ll be exposed to some lesser or greater degree. And as for identity theft, there are small ways we can protect ourselves there, too. We can choose not to use credit cards or electronic banking (although that's still no guarantee of our financial safety), and we can be sure that credit card offers we receive in the mail are shredded or burned. We can carefully guard our social security numbers, and we can refuse to give sensitive information over the phone, and we can make sure we have spyware and antivirus software on our computers, and we can not shop online and pay cash for other purchases. Simple things, like that.

But really, it's not the health issue or the security issue that gets my hackles up. What really prickles me is the whole changing of the customer/service provider relationship, and what seems to be CMP's belief that the service they provide is essential to my life and well-being, and that they can, therefore, do whatever they wish without regard to how I feel about it.

What bothers me most about this case is that *we* have not been given a choice. In fact, until someone posted it on my homeschool e-list, I didn’t even know that, as far as CMP is concerned, it’s a done deal. They've already purchased SmartMeters to replace all of the meters in their service area.

... And they are replacing the meters for every one of their customers, without ever having given us a choice as to whether or not we wanted to accept the change.

So, in essence, they are telling me that they have the right to come onto my property and alter my house without my permission or consent (my electric meter is permanently affixed to the side of my house).

At very least, there should have been a work-order sent out to all CMP customers that needed to be signed by the homeowners to give permission for CMP to come onto the property and make changes. I neither saw nor signed any such order. In short, I shouldn’t have to “opt-out”; instead, we should have been given the opportunity of “opting-in.”

CMP has grossly overstepped its bounds, and they have changed the nature of our relationship from one of me, the customer who is paying the bills, and therefore is in “charge”, to one of them taking charge and telling me what they will provide and how they will provide it. In short, they seem to feel as if the service they are providing is one that I need, and that without my life will be significantly and negatively impacted. It's like I'm a crack-addict and CMP is my supplier, and without their product, I might curl up in a ball and just waste away.

The irony is that because their service has been fairly shoddy and not very reliable, they’ve made me realize that I can live, quite comfortably, without the electricity they supply – or at very least with a great deal less than they think I need. To be very clear, I like having electricity in my house, but I don't need it.

What's more is that the whole impetus behind this change has been to save money, and I think we, the customers, the ones who are supporting these corporations, should be fighting back, as this seems like another case of corporate greed to me. We should be letting CMP know that they don’t own us, and that we aren’t desperately in need of what they’re giving and willing, at all costs, to keep paying, regardless of what they do.

CMP has chosen to replace the meters to *save money* on man hours, which means that guy who drives around in the orange truck to read our meters each month will likely be unemployed once the meters are installed. How many of those guys are there here in Maine? In this economy, can we afford to support companies who are working so diligently to cut jobs just to save a few bucks (so that their bottom line is bigger)? Don’t think for one second that by saving money CMP wuold lower our electricity rates (which are some of the highest in the country!). Nope. It’s all about their bottom line, and as the mayor in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs says, All I heard was "Blah, Blah, science, science, BIGGER!" and bigger means better! The bigger their bottom line, the better, no matter the ultimate cost to us, the customers, to their employees, or to the state in which they operate.

We have a choice, and it doesn't have to just be to accept the SmartMeter or not, because ultimately, CMP is going to install all of these meters in which they have invested all of this money. It's not a matter of *if*, but when. Like our government, corporations have come to see us as so many pawns whom they can move around the chessboard, as they wish, and sacrifice in order to protect their kings (i.e. the CEOs, upper management, Board members, and stockholders ... i.e. the guys with the money).

We have a choice - be pawns or opt out of the game.

I'm really tired of being manipulated. Off-grid living is looking pretty good.


  1. Wendy, I am totally with you! Each and every point you brought up concerns me greatly. Right now we rent, and are saving up for a that we plan to either a) build from the ground up to be off the grid or b) start to retrofit an existing home with off-grid devices (solar, wind, passive solar, etc.).

    It has been a dream of mine to live off the grid for years, but realistically either the money wasn't there for me to create my own off-grid home, or I was still weaning myself off of different luxuries slowly.

    It is part environment and part independence that draws me toward living off the grid. I know that you and I are not the only ones feeling this way. That critical mass of TSHTF feels like it draws closer all the time. I definately am not interested in being in the spokes of the fan when that happens!

  2. Good luck with that! I wouldn't worry too much about the identity part; unless that sucker is connected to your home wifi the only thing it can tell someone is how much electricity you're using. They can learn that now by sneaking in & reading your current meter or stealing your bill from the mailbox).

    If I understand how they work, the meter readers still have to drive around to the houses. But now they can get the numbers without getting out of the truck. I'm sure many of them will welcome that, especially those folks with large dogs on their routes. Not sure about the radiation thingie, it's probably what they call "near-field" microwaves & would only be on when the guy in the truck sends it the "gimme da numbiz" signal.

    I'm not trying to discourage you from going off-grid, we'll all be doing it sooner or later, but I'm not a big fan of misinformation or especially of acting on misinformation…

  3. No, with these new meters NO meter reader is required at all. Alabama Power has installed them here and I just happen to be home the day mine was put in. I spoke to the man, who normally reads my meter, and he told me himself that he was losing his job because of the meters. A satellite reads them now. I was not aware of the health issues but he and I did talk about the unfortunate result of him losing his job. He said he had worked for AL Power for 20 something years. And no, since their installation I have not seen my rates go down. They might be saving money for them not us. From what he told me, and he didn't seem happy enough with the company to mislead me, I don't believe much info could be hacked through the system except how much power you are using, unless maybe you pay your bill electronically and they have your bank or credit info.
    I feel they are fairly safe but I still feel the more computerized and automated a system, the easier it is to break completely down or be sabotaged.

  4. Meter reader or no meter reader may depend on the system and software used by the electric transmission company. We have smartmeters here in FtW and I still see the Oncor trucks around but don't have a guy walking in my backyard anymore. I think parts of the city may have smart water meters too. I have seen the water meter guy walking around with this little device that has a long wand attached to it. I know with the old meters you had to get down in the box and clean the meter off to read it and these guys weren't doing that.

    As far as permissions to change the meter go that is probably covered in the contract signed when you opened your account with the electric company. The generation companies are fully aware of who owns and manages the transmission equipment and I would imagine are providing for that in the contracts. You probably signed permission for that without even knowing it.

    Just more reason to get yourself more off grid. If you own your own generation equipment you know with whom you are dealing.

  5. No meter readers required here in Northern California either - Pacific Gas & Electric (PGE) gives notice that your meters will be replaced. They are supposed to knock on the door first to tell you they are coming onto your property. (My neighbor happened to be home, but didn't get to the door quickly enough. It's like doorbell ditch - they knock, don't wait one second, and then come onto the property as they like.) My meters were replaced while I wasn't at home - they hopped over my LOCKED gate to do it.

    What the SmartMeters can also do - PGE or a potential hacker can tell WHEN you are using electricity or gas, thereby knowing whether you're at home or not, what time you wake up and/or go to sleep, just by having access to your usage patterns.

    The privacy invasion issues with SmartMeters are numerous - a real hot button issue.

  6. i especially like the chess metaphor. However simple we are pawns to many kings it just depends on the game in question.

    hey i think there is some virus trying to come from your site. it wont let me use my google ID because some security breech.


  7. I'll tell you from personal experience there are A LOT of meter readers still out there. Oof. And they're handsomely paid, at least here in NJ. So I can see where they'd want to get rid of them. Of course there are a lot of legal issues laying a big group of people off like that too, depending on the size of the group and state laws.

    But yes, the first thing that popped into my mind when you said what they were doing was "CHOICE!" That's a big one.

    As for the whiz bang computerness of it all...just more crap to break and be a PITA to fix!