Smart Meter Fans Reply

When MLGW Board Chairman Steve Wishnia asked for people to speak in favor of smart meters at its meeting Thursday, only one person came forward.

One pro, fourteen against was the dynamic; I later learned that MLGW had sent out an e-blast to the 1,200 who participated in the initial program to ask for speakers. They got one. One.

That one was Janet Kelly. She stepped up to the microphone to explain. Wearing a green polo shirt (an environmental statement?), Kelly explained she’d been in the program for two years.

“I wasn’t sure at first if my family would be on board,” she admitted. “Whether they would be OK with running the dishwasher and washing machine at different times.” They did adjust.

She explained that the peak times in the winter are from 4 a.m. to 10 a.m. and in summer, noon to 10 p.m. “April, May, October and November are off peak times,” Kelly said.

That prompted an opponent to respond, “I don’t want to freeze in my house from 4 a.m. on,” and elicited laughter and applause from the audience.

As for cost savings, Ms. Kelly said she found “the bill was less, but I can’t say by how much.”

Once the public had its say, MLGW president Jerry Collins took his turn. Keeping his back to the audience, but facing the four board members, Collins tackled some of the issues.

Collins denied that smart meters cause fires and stressed that an opt out would be available for customers. He called out to VP Chris Bieber in the audience for the number of Elster installed meters worldwide. Bieber replied “three million.” Collins continued. “Smart meters will not cause rates to increase or higher bills. We don’t cause modification of behavior. It’s your choice.” He dismissed the issue of UL approval, saying the old ones didn’t have it either and disputed the need to replace smart meters every three years.

He continued. “Some people saved a lot of money (on the smart meters).” He did not provide names or amounts. “No agency in the state is more transparent than LGW.” I’ve heard that phrase before from our president but we still don’t see bills before they’re passed or know about lobbyists who visit the Oval or the details on the Affordable Care Act.

“We’ll be laying off through attrition, not just laying off and the cost of the meters will fall as more get them. We plan the ultimate replacement of a million meters by 2020,” Collins continued. “It’s the next step in our program. ‘Always do what’s in the best interest of the customer’ is our mantra,” he concluded.

Board member Rick Masson asked “with our energy use, at what point will TVA have to build another plant?” Collins replied that it was “a ridiculous expense” for TVA to build plants that only are need for 200 hours a year. “A payback period for smart meters is 9-11 years.”

He then discussed the issue of security. “The homeowner being able to lock the gate is more security,” Collins said, pointing to the current analog need to be read by employees who often find the way blocked by a fence or a dog. “It will virtually eliminate theft.”

As for cybersecurity, “We are heavily regulated by the government. It’s extremely extensive. We’ll be audited this fall by the government. We think it’s safe,” the MLGW head said.

Union member Bill Hawkins, who was filming the whole meeting, got up to respond. He disputed the suggested cost of the meters, seeing them heading towards a billion. “The warranty on the smart meters is just 12 months,” he said. He recounted one area’s experience. The batteries in the meters failed and had to be replaced. When they were replaced, customers started getting bills in the thousands of dollars. They then found out that when the battery is replaced, the whole unit must be recalibrated. The cost to do this is higher than to replace the whole unit.

Many were aghast that Collins did not know this.

Others echoed an earlier solution: make it an opt in program rather than opt out.

Collins appeared to scowl and said “we’re comfortable with the opt out. It’s very generous.”

Pleas again turned to the technological immaturity argument against smart meters. One man used his cell phone as an example. A ten year old cell phone doesn’t work or work as well today as then. Technology improves. Why don’t we wait until the smart meters are better? “Will they last ten years?” he asked. “No one in business would do a ten year payback. The smart meter is not about saving money!”

All the pleas fell on deaf ears and the board voted unanimously to approve the roll out of 60,000 more smart meters. The request will come before the City Council Tuesday.

“We just have to move forward!” Collins concluded.

Funny, “Forward” was a campaign slogan I heard a few months back.

Tomorrow: Who are the people running MLGW?

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