Smart Meters and the Council

Before smart meters can be implemented in Shelby County, the City Council must approve the move. So far, they have put us on track to make smart meters the norm in the one million plus customer homes MLGW serves.

The utility has been quick to understand how to move forward. At first, 1,000 smart meters were offered and split up among 30 zip codes with each city council district represented. MLGW Vice President of Customer Care Chris Bieber said the company received 1,800 applications for the devices after they put the idea up on the MLGW website. Then, they were given 200 more meters and so expanded the number to 1,200.

The initial response was mostly positive, but that is not surprising since the volunteers wanted them. Council woman Janis Fullilove had one installed and then removed. She did not like it, finding it gave her inaccurate readings and upped her bill.

On November 20 of last year, the Council gave the OK for 60,000 more smart meters. The Commercial Appeal reported

By voting 8-3 to approve the utility’s $1.8 billion budget, the council also okayed the installation of 60,000 new “smart meters.” These meters measure and relay a customer’s electrical consumption every 15 minutes, giving them a better idea of when and how much power they’re consuming.

Originally, MLGW’s budget only called for 6,000 new meters, and Council Chairman Bill Morrison’s measure to expand that — at a cost of $12.6 million — stirred some controversy. Bill Hawkins, a spokesman for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union, opposed the change, fearing that it could cost current meter readers their jobs.

City Council Chairman Morrison was joined by Bill Boyd, Kemp Conrad, Shea Flinn, Edmund Ford Jr., Lee Harris, Myron Lowery and Jim Strickland in voting for them. There were No votes from Janis Fullilove, Joe Brown and Harold Collins. Reid Hedgepeth did not cast a vote and Wanda Halbert was absent.

While trimming employees may seem a money savings for the utility and its customers, it may not be. Asked about this Bieber said, “there are two pots of money involved in this effort. There are operational savings by reducing people on the payroll. But it would never be big enough to save us much money.

“The second pot is the customer savings.” Bieber says this is where the most money is saved. Customers can use the smart meters to determine the cheapest rate time and then using those times to run appliances. He estimates this could save customers $30 million a year.

Or not. Estimates of things like savings are notoriously inaccurate. It’s kind of like getting a credit for a negative. If smart meters are used, in essence, we will all be paying more for the services we get now. To run my house as is done now – like most people with an eye to reducing the bill – will cost me more if I am not following MLGW’s time of use plans. Perhaps I cannot because of family circumstances, older people in the home, disabilities, etc.

Then there is the surveillance aspect. Memphis Shelby notes,

I think that we should have a public debate about smart meters and what is the future of this program. If it is to lower the cost of utility service by doing away with the need for meter readers, than that is a good thing. If it is to get us all on a time of day utility rate, to collect invasive information on a household’s utility use, and eventually enforcing rolling blackouts etc. then that is a bad thing. We need to know more before we go down this road. Recently homeowners in the United States have been arrested for refusing to install smart meters. There is much more behind this smart meter facade than meets the eye.

Next: Agenda 21 and head of MLGW Jerry Collins’ response.

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