Smart Meters, Smarter Audience

Smart meters were the primary item on the MLGW board meeeting yesterday, Thursday April 18th. Although a pilot program of 1,200 was introduced last year, the utility company would like to purchase 60,000 more and came before the board to request this.

The meetings are open to the public, but I had never attended one before. I arrived at the front desk at the building at 220 South Main as all guests are required to do. You must show an ID, get a badge and go through a metal detector. Then a guard conducted me to the meeting room on the fifth floor of the building.

So many people had packed into it that some were left standing. The board members sit on a podium facing the audience, while the MLGW officers sit with their backs to the audience, facing the board. Although there were five seats on the platform, only four members were there. They were chairman Steve Wishnia, vice chairman Rick Masson, Darrell Cobbins and Derwin Sisnett. The first two were white, the second two black and no woman was on the board at all.

The meeting began with the pledge of allegiance. After the minutes were approved, the fireworks began.

The chairman asked for all the cards filled out by those wishing to speak. He found one speaking in favor of smart meters and 14 against. He wanted to limit the speakers to a minute, but objections from the floor made him yield to a minute and a half. Testy, Wishnia called the first speaker and directed him to the microphone and podium on the side of the room and asked them to state their name and give their address.

First up was David Jones. He said he was from Lakeland. He politely asked the Board to stop the implementation of smart meters citing health problems, privacy, fire and hacking concerns. Happy with the current analog system, Jones said he wants MLGW to provide an opt out for customers.

“In the pilot program, the new meters will have to be replaced,” said Donna Bohannon, the next speaker. “We are going to a new vendor and here we are spending money again. I don’t want my behavior modified in my own home,” she said. “The expenditure of energy is for me to decide.”

MLGW president Jerry Collins interrupted and said “the existing meters are not going to be replaced.” He called on Vice President Chris Bieber, who was sitting behind me and a few seats over to back him up. Bieber didn’t.

“She’s correct,” Bieber said. He explained that the pilot program monitors cannot communicate gas and water information. Many eyebrows were raised at that; the public assumes an officer would know about the replacements. He didn’t.

A Bartlett resident, Ann Grosvenor, said the meters were a way of raising rates. “How do we know that the bills will be accurate with the smart meters?” she asked. “In other communities bills have tripled. It’s been true in every community I’ve talked to. Savings only come from behavior changes they are asking of us. It hurts people who are at home in the day time.”

A man named Ray took up that argument. “How am I supposed to tell my 93-year-old mother that she has to change her wash day from Monday morning to Friday evening? For the elderly, smart meters will dictate change and behavior in them.”

At that, Wishnia a called on Bieber to clarify and Bieber again asserted, “if you don’t want time of use you can opt out.”

Ray responded that “we the people have no voice in the investment of our money – lots of money. Give the people who hire you a chance to decide. You’re taking our vote away from us!”

A Cordova realtor, Bob Turner, shared his personal experience. “I do prep in three states with four different utilities and you have the worst service of any of them. A big problem is the theft of meters. How are you going to stop that or can you stop people from stealing power from others?”

Turner continued that he doesn’t want MLGW spending $10 million on this and I don’t want you knowing when I do my wash.”

Brenda Fowler, an at home mom and home schooler, bristled at the idea that people at home such as herself and her children would have to pay more for their daytime activities. “I don’t want someone keeping track and I don’t want someone telling me what to do. I don’t have a lot of trust in the transparency of MLGW now or 10 years from now.”

A Collierville resident, Cathy Auxier said she’s schedule to get a smart meter in the next roll out. Transparency is an issue for her, too. “The amount of money it will cost has not been fully admitted. It means rate increases. We’re being kept in the dark. If smart meters are so great, are they on your houses?

“It’s the money. It’s always about money,” Auxier continued. She asked people to look into the experience of Ontario Electric. “They got a large rate increase and the people who opted out got a higher rate than the smart meter home owners. We want to know the total cost.”

Arthur Everett objected to the behavior modification the meters impose. “You are an energy company using us as guinea pigs for a social engineering project.”

Kathy Kennedy also stressed that the meters will be more expensive than the costs they claim and Trudy Stamps of Cordova brought up the absence of UL seal, “the gold standard for consumers” on the meters. “Analog have been very safe. Smart meters have exploded and caused fires way more than analogs. And that is with smart meters only having been tried for a decade. I don’t want one of those underneath my bedroom window.”

At this, Bieber stood up and said “no meters meet the UL standards.” I think he made her point.

Tomorrow: Other arguments against them and one speaks in favor.

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