To the Editor:
The further encroachment of government and bureaucracy on our private lives and personal liberties has taken it's next big step. The so-called "Smart Grid" system for efficient management of our electrical usage has taken the next step with the installation of "Smart Meters" in the Burlington area, with the intention of installation proceeding state-wide over the next few years.
For those who don't already know, "Smart Meters" are replacements for the standard mechanical dial-type electrical meters we already have on our homes and power poles. Currently, workers from the utility companies make a circuit of a service area and note the readings on the meters, calculate our energy usage for the previous month and send us our billing statement. With these new meters, there will be no need for the workers to stop and read the meter. These meters will send the information wirelessly to the technician at the roadside, or to a central data site. These meters will also monitor your energy usage, supposedly to give businesses and individuals "the information they need to reduce their energy usage and their costs".
The idea is that the combination of "Smart Meters" and the "Smart Grid" will enable electricity providers to more efficiently manage delivery and avoid the risk of grid failure (blackouts and brownouts) during high-demand periods. Sounds good so far, right?
Here's the part that has worms crawling out of it: This same technology will also allow utilities and different departments of state government access to records of your personal lives; how much power you use and when, potentially giving them the ability to limit your usage in the name of the public good.
Here's how it would work: Let's say the Agency of Natural Resources or the PSB has adopted standards for what is considered "sustainable" energy use. The ability to monitor individuals' energy usage will allow them to isolate those who are using more than their "fair share." The first knowledge you would have of such monitoring would be the "friendly reminder" you receive in the mail from the state alerting you to the situation: "Dear , Our records indicate that your energy usage is much higher than the average for your area. As part of our on-going effort to ensure the availability of power for all Vermonters, and to help you manage your energy usage and reduce your costs, we have included a list of several steps you can take to reduce your consumption of energy and lower your utility bills. Following these steps will help us ensure that we can continue to meet the power needs of all. Thank you for your cooperation. Signed, ".
Time goes on. You decide for yourself that you want to keep your home at 68 in August. You want to be comfortable and besides, you can afford it, right? This would lead to a second, likely much less friendly notice from your friends in government requiring you to comply with their energy conservation mandates. After all, you don't have the right to use more power than your neighbors. THEY are cooperating; THEY are doing their part to ensure that everyone else has electricity; THEY aren't being selfish and greedy. You are given a set deadline by which time you are to bring your consumption within the proscribed guidelines.
Well, now. You aren't going to stand for this. You come from a long line of native-born Vermonters. No one has the right to decide for you what you can and can not buy with your own money, or how well you are to be allowed to live, or how comfortable you can be in your own home. We're not in the middle of WWII. There's not been any passage of a rationing law.
You decide: "Here's mud in your eye! It's my life and my home and I'll live as well as I want and can afford." You don't send this response (you're not a complete idiot). You simply make the decision to ignore the illegal demands of the state.
Then a few weeks later a curious thing happens. Sometime around the end of the 3rd week of the month, your power goes out! You contact your utility company and, after getting the runaround for several minutes, it is finally admitted that the decision to cut you off was made at the order of the government (the utility itself doesn't mind how much energy you use, as long as you pay your bill) in response to your refusal to abide by their earlier demands. Since you refused to limit your usage on your own, the state decided that you would be cut off once you reached the limit of what they have determined to be "sustainable".
You can avoid this invasion (for a while) by paying a fee in order to be "allowed" to keep your mechanical meter. Doesn't sound so good now, does it?
On a macro level, control of the grid without providing for more electricity generation or increased capacity will inevitably lead to rationing in other ways. Let's say it's July/August and energy usage is forecast to be exceptionally heavy. In order to prevent a "crisis" the government (through the utility) needs to prioritize energy availability and usage, most likely giving greater weight to population and industrial centers and to public infrastructure. To accomplish this they would have to restrict energy availability to the more rural and remote areas in favor of "essential needs." Anyone care to wager on which side of the equation we in the Kingdom would find ourselves?
Also, don't forget that when the merger deal and sale of Vermont's two biggest utilities to a Canadian consortium goes through (and it will go through) any influence of localities will have been eliminated. Yell and scream all you want; our market is too small to matter when balanced against the much bigger markets of Boston, NYC, and other metro areas.
Some of you may decide to go "off grid" and install alternative personal energy generation stations such as solar and wind. If you've got the cash, do it fast. I have no doubt that if it becomes a big enough issue, the state will quickly issue regulations requiring that any such personal power generation stations be tied into the grid, which will give them the ability to not just regulate your energy usage, but to also confiscate some of the power you generate when the state has "need" of it.
It won't happen all at once, or even in the space of a year or two, but don't doubt that "Big Brother" is beginning to flex his muscles. Get back to me in five or 10 years and tell me how wrong I was.