More Questions on Smart Meters

MLGW has been busy promoting its smart meters. Yesterday they had a luncheon for the Engineers Club at CBU. They also have scheduled lunches for various neighborhood groups to let them know the “benefits” of smart meters. There is a kind of sub rosa desperation here on their part that makes me wonder who is so eager to get these approved and implemented and why.

A letter asking some pertinent questions to Mr. Lee Schumann, an organizer of the event sponsored by the Tennessee Society of Professional Engineers:

Date: Monday, May 13, 2013, 12:59 PM

Mr. Schumann,

I have a few concerns about the public touting of this program without having all of the facts presented so the residents of Memphis that are MLG&W customers can make an educated decision.

First, I would like proof that the program will save customers money on their utility bills. I have heard estimates that the full implementation of the program will cost 215 million dollars. Now the two concerns I have with that. First, anyone that is involved in construction understands that estimates and budgets are generally low. Actual final costs to construct almost always exceed budgets. So this 215 million number is suspect based on that. Second, assuming this estimate is correct, where is this 215 million coming from? Is it coming from the same source that is giving all customers a deduction in their monthly utility bills? Since this program will allow users to view their utility consumption real time, there will need to be security measures put in place and maintained to keep this information secure. Are these costs included in the financial decision matrix? Is it being shared with the public?I would like to see some more information regarding these so called savings.

Second, I have seen the initial estimates at the rates for on peak and off peak. The anticipated rates for on peak usage will be 11 cents per kWh. This compares to a current rate of 6 cents. This window for on peak usage is 12-8PM. This will affect one third of the day for everyone, mostly stay at home moms, retired persons and the poor. Not to mention everyone will be affected on Saturday and Sunday. Off peak rates will only decrease to 5 cents per kWh, down from 6. This is during times when people are at the minimum power consumption activities. One thing I have not seen is how this program will be implemented in the commercial areas, if at all. If it is so great for all, why not target the largest users during this schedule? I have a feeling the business users would object strongly because it would cause them to spend more. If it would cause their bills to go up, how would it not do the same to residential users?

Third, your PR brochure lists it encourages users to consume less electricity. I wonder how this is done. Is it that when someone sees in real time how much power they are using they feel this sense of environmental concern to go look for appliances to turn off or is it because they feel obligated to reduce power to cut down the amount of their utility bills? My guess is it is the latter. If someone can afford it they will turn it off. The only way they will not be able to afford it is if the bills go up.

Finally I have not even addressed the security and electromagnetic pollution concerns that many have. You can find a number of sources, studies that speak to this. Everyone will just have to form their own opinion on this topic. I personally do not trust studies that are funded by the very organizations their findings protect, or that have conflicts of interests present on their boards, or with their lobbyists, etc. It is generally a known fact that electromagnetic radiation can cause cancer. Exposure amounts affect risk. When we allow more devices into our lives without knowing the full effect of these devices, we increase that risk. If the cell phone industry had published the fact that their devices can cause cancer when they were first introduced and not widespread, would the public have been so willing to accept them? But now because they are such an ingrained part of our lives, we accept the risk. Well now throw in wireless devices of all types, cell phones in with smart meters and we are creating an environment that maybe one device alone will not cause a problem, but grouped together it is a problem. I personally just don’t see the added benefit of smart meters to risk this added exposure. The benefit of cell phones can be argued, but not smart meters.

But my objection to them is more of a financial matter. If I feel compelled to cut my power usage, I don’t need smart meters for that. I would hope that you give both sides equal representation in your capacity.

Woodrow Martin, P.E.

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