SMART METERS….Here’s a good example of consumer group shortsightedness. My local power company, Southern California Edison, wants to start rolling out “smart meters” in people’s homes, an initiative that would (a) cost money but (b) almost certainly cut down electricity usage in the long run. Here’s the response the LA Times got in a story today about the rollout costs:

“Edison is assuming that people will use and respond to this stuff. . . but we don’t have any guaranteed benefits here,” said Mindy Spatt, spokeswoman for the San Francisco-based Utility Reform Network. “The only thing that’s guaranteed is the cost.”

….”Whether the consumer has a smart meter or the consumer has a dumb meter, the bottom line for the consumer is that the less [electricity] they use, the less they pay, and the more they use, the more they pay,” Spatt said. “That’s a message I’m willing to deliver for free.”

Yeah, I’m willing to deliver it for free too. In fact, I just did. But I don’t expect that this post will really have much impact on my readers’ electricity use. Conversely, a colorful LCD display in your home that showed you, in real time, how much electricity you were using and how much it cost, would almost certainly change your habits over time.

The way the system works is fairly simple: your old meter gets replaced by a nifty new SmartConnect meter, which then connects wirelessly to a display inside your home. It can also connect wirelessly to compatible appliances in your home and you can, if you want, program the unit to automatically turn certain appliances off if the price of electricity goes over a certain level. I haven’t seen what the actual indoor meters look like, but you can get an idea here.

Scoffing at this stuff is dumb. People respond to incentives and they respond more strongly when the incentives are right in front of their faces. Sure, smart meters cost money, but there’s no free lunch. It’s an idea whose time has come.