Your meter's about to get smart

HOUSTON Starting next year, nearly every home in the Houston area will get a new digital power meter. The meters will help you monitor and control your usage and eventually, you'll be able to see exactly how much your bill will be any time during the month. The first step, however, is installing more than two million new power meters.

By now, most of us have seen the wheel spin around inside a power meter, with each turn sending your bill higher and higher. Soon, those types of meters will be gone forever, replaced by smart meters, which may be able to help you save money.

"The consumer will be able to go in and control the different devices that are inside their home," said Dwayne Turner with CenterPoint Energy. "They'll be able to see what usage is going on in the home at the moment."

From an office across town, Turner is able to turn off an apartment's lights and air conditioner. It is that same remote control ability that the smart meter promises to bring to everyone.

"They talk with appliances with compatible communications inside the home," said Floyd LeBlanc with CenterPoint. "You can raise the thermostat inside the home via the Internet from your office or from your PDA."

Starting in March of next year, CenterPoint will replace more than two million old meters with new smart meters. Eventually, devices will come on the market that will let you see how much your power bill will be day to day. But there are some immediate benefits.

"You are not going to see meter readers in the future," said LeBlanc. "You won't have meter readers going in your yard. You won't have to worry about the security in your backyard."

The technology will not be free. CenterPoint will bill electricity providers more than $3 a month for each meter installed for the next 12 years. It'll be up to your power provider to decide if the costs will passed along to consumers. CenterPoint officials say the costs can offset by the savings potential.

"I think it's a fantastic idea," said consumer Tony Smith. "Everyone should pay the exact amount, but I'd rather see them spending the money on other things, like burying the power lines."

The meters use cell phone technology to communicate with CenterPoint. Officials say the meters will make it easier and quicker to turn on someone's power. It will take a full five years to get the entire two million meters installed.

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