Quick Take: Home energy monitors, once expected to be a popular accessory for the affluent, instead may become common amongst Texas’ poorest families, as you will read below.

I have mixed feelings. I certainly agree that more should be done to help low-income families gain control and choice. And I understand that the poor are the least likely to have the Internet connections and smart phones that would allow them to access Web portals and energy apps. Given those two things, regulators decided they should get home energy monitors. 

But home energy monitors haven’t been very popular. Few families want another single-purpose device cluttering their countertops, especially for something they might check once or twice per month. It’s not like you need to monitor your electricity minute-by-minute. What helps most is comparative reports (how you compare to similar houses) and recommendations (what you can do to save energy). And those things can be delivered quite effectively by paper.

Maybe they should have used the allotted $300 per family to subsidize a smart phone? Or maybe they should spend it on smart thermostats that learn on their own how to adjust settings. What would YOU do with that money to help the poor reduce their energy bills? The Comment form awaits at the bottom.  – By Jesse Berst

The Public Utility Commission of Texas wants utilities to provide low-income customers with tools help them cut their bills, says the Texas Tribune. The program would tap $18.5 million earmarked years ago for such a program. Texas transmission companies — Centerpoint, Oncor and AEP Texas — are to be ready by January 2015. They will reimburse retail electric providers up to $300 for each high-tech device.

Those devices are described as “home and business area networks” that interact with smart meters. Most observers interpret that to mean smart thermostats or home energy monitors. Texas has spent more than $2.5 billion installing about 7 million meters across the state. Funding came from federal grants and plus additional monthly fees between $2 and $3.

Customers can check their energy usage online already, but many poor families don’t have Internet access. Once low-income customers have the new devices, they’ll have more information about their energy use and can plan how to save money by reducing it. What’s more, according to Doug Lewin, executive director of the South-Central Partnership for Energy Efficiency as a Resource, the data will also help electricity providers tailor plans to individual customers based upon their use.

“I’m having a hard time seeing what the benefit is to the customer,” said Carol Biedrzycki, executive director of Texas Ratepayers’ Organization to Save Energy. “Monitors have just been a non-seller.”

Jesse Berst is the founder and Chief Analyst of SGN and Chairman of the Smart Cities Council, an industry coalition.