In 2009, utilities across the U.S. began installing new two-way wireless electric smart meters on homes. With economic stimulus funding from the federal government, investor-owned utilities were all too happy to have a shovel-ready scheme and a guaranteed rate of return on investment. Citizens were told that the meters would give them “more control over their energy usage.”
Investors were happy, buoyed by state and local regulations encouraging (and in some cases mandating) customers to accept radio-frequency emitting meters for gas, water, and electricity, with additional earnings from the wireless networks that collect the data, software, planned obsolescence, and other growth indicators.
Smart meters appealed to clean energy proponents, too. The narrative is that the meters are necessary in order to integrate more renewables into the grid, particularly solar. To address climate change, or to make electricity more sustainable, or to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, smart meters got hitched to the narrative for solar and other renewables. Approvals for smart meters started sailing through public utility commission hearings across the country, starting in California, Texas, and Maine. Environmental groups including the Sierra Club, National Resources Defense Council, and the Environmental Defense Fund provided compelling testimonies in favor of the grid technologies and smart meters.
When Hurricane Sandy slammed into the New Jersey shoreline in 2012, modernizing the grid became an emergency. Smart meters and a smarter grid were again promoted as a “necessary” response to climate change, and the phrase “hardening the grid” made its way into the parlance of the “robust architecture” of smart meters. Images of the wrath of the hurricane were linked to promises that the smart meters would prevent billions in costs caused by outages.
Illinois was one of the states that established itself as a business leader by promoting smart meters as an economic driver, at one point pushing the math that the grid could be completely modernized for somewhere around $3.00 per month per customer. In 2013, when he voiced concerns for costs to ratepayers, the pro-business Illinois Legislature overrode Governor Pat Quinn’s attempt to veto the deployment of smart meters.  He lost his bid for re-election.
The non-profit Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative was eventually formed, and expert analysts published white papers and resources for policy makers.