My dad lives in Texas. I note this because I realize that it is easy to default to stereotypes of Texas in stories like the one I’m about to relate. But there are good, smart, conscientious people in Texas just as there are everywhere.
This story is not about such people.
Thelma Taormina keeps a pistol at her Houston-area home to protect against intruders. But one of the last times she used it, she said, was to run off a persistent utility company worker who was trying to replace her old electricity meter with a new digital unit.
So, yeah. AP has a lengthy story about consumer backlash to smart meters in the Lone Star State. It’s an odd issue for people to take up arms over, but it’s not without precedent. We’ve written about similar backlash in California.
Smart meters, you’ll likely recall, provide real-time energy consumption information to utilities, allowing them to better deal with grid problems, and provide consumers with data that could help them reduce consumption — and reduce bills. So what’s the problem?
State utility commission hearings on the meters have featured as many references to the Founding Fathers, the Revolutionary War and the Constitution as to the technical demands on the power system.
At a recent session, a staff presentation included a slide saying the new meters “are not meant to spy on you.” Waiting to testify, activist David Akin replied, “Yes they are!”
Some say the meters would allow the police or other government agencies to tell when a person was awake and what they were doing in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Unlike, say, seeing if lights are on from the sidewalk.
In Texas, opposition to smart meters appears to have gotten wrapped up into the fringe of 2012 politics, this hysterical paranoia over encroachment by the government. These concerns were nicely embodied in the recent comments of a sitting judge (a judge!) who warned that reelecting Obama would mean a U.N. invasion of the state. (The U.N. has denied such plans.) This is a year in which the far-right-wing John Birch Society is handing out pamphlets at the Republican National Convention warning people about Agenda 21. Not a big surprise, then, that some of Texas’ more reactionary citizens are concerned about utility workers installing “smart” meters — however irrational the concern.
Some angry residents are building steel cages around their electric meters, threatening installers who show up with new ones and brandishing Texas flags at boisterous hearings about the utility conversion. At a recent hearing at the state Capitol in Austin, protesters insisted everyone present recite the Pledge of Allegiance before the meeting could begin.
“It’s Gestapo. You can’t do this,” said Shar Wall of Houston, who attended the Public Utility Commission meeting wearing a large red “Texas Conservative” pin. “I’m a redneck Texas girl and I won’t put up with it.”
Ask any reporter: Stories about six-shooter-wielding freedom fighters are more interesting than ones about consumers acquiescing to sensible infrastructure upgrades, no matter how small a minority they are. So keep it coming, Texas.
Um, but not you, Dad.