One of the most interesting and stunning things about Thursday night’s townhall meeting at the library on smart meters was the silence of MLGW. Not only did President Jerry Collins duck out early and avoid answering any questions, but his subordinates lacked answers, too. The employees from MLGW who peppered the audience never raised a voice of support either. Supposedly they had been told to attend to bolster MLGW’s view on smart meters and to prevent the anti smart meter attendees from getting a seat.
It didn’t work. Or, they didn’t comply.
Not so with the local IBEW Local 1288 union. Before the townhall some of them stationed themselves outside the Benjamin Hooks Library, held signs and gave out pamphlets. Many were already inside and they had signs, too. They were loud, vocal and certainly not shy on confrontation.
Neither was their leader, Bill Hawkins. He followed the presentation by MLGW official Eliza King and pointedly said he would not rely on her method of discussing the issue relying on talking points projected on the screen. He began with a call for a public referendum on the issue. “We don’t want a few people on the City Council deciding for us or a few people at MLGW. Let’s have a public referendum and let the people decide.”
Following the thunderous approval, Hawkins started tearing down the MLGW talking points.
On time of use rates, Hawkins says “it means you will pay a higher fee during a certain time of day. You will be paying more for the same service you get now. There won’t be just one time of use rate; there will be 48 different rates. They are based on the time of year, the time of day, and all those combinations. What it means is there will actually be 48 different time of use rates.”
As for the program being voluntary, Hawkins quoted the letters customers in the program received: “Congratulations. You will be receiving the new smart meters…Does that sound like a choice? That’s because there is no opt out available. Five times we have asked them to put that there is an opt out in writing. They have refused to do it. Why?”
As for a fee being placed on those refusing the smart meters to cover the cost of meter readers, Hawkins again asked why. “The meter reading fee is already in your cost now!”
The union spokesman alleged that MLGW has been conducting secret meetings about the implementation of smart meters. “This is your public company” Hawkins reminded the citizens.
To the claim that no smart meters in Shelby County have caught fire: “I got a call from a friend about a whole box of burned up meters he had.” He brought a few with him. He also noted that MLGW also isn’t telling you that “there was a 30% failure rate on the 1,200 meters in the pilot program.”
One of the talking points MLGW has made about the smart meters is that the old analog meters are no longer being made. Hawkins disputes that. He notes that the smart meters all require a battery. MLGW says the company they have chosen, Elster, “says the battery life on them is twenty years. I looked at the warranty and it said one year. When they fail after one year (which they often do between one and three years) who will pay for it? After one year, the company waives that promise.”
Hawkins then focused on MLGW’s claim that the smart meter is a two way communication that helps them and helps notify when outages occur. Hawkins went to a seminar in San Diego where he “saw demonstrated how a meter can be reprogrammed with an ordinary laptop. You can download things to the meter’s insides.” That means that hacking and theft are very real threats.
After this week, when we find out about the government’s ability to spy on us, who wouldn’t be concerned about giving the power to determine your energy usage to them? Hawkins said “they want to be able to go into your house and decide how you use your power. They can do it with the other smart appliances that will be communicating to each other and to the utility company. He asked if you would give someone else a key to your house. The audience indicated they wouldn’t.
As an electrician, Hawkins is aware of standards that are set for equipment. “There are no standards yet set for smart meters,” he said. “So what’s the hurry? Can’t we wait until there are standards? Who is getting the money?”
Smart meter opponents point to the experience of that green loving state California. “California has said that all of the benefits promised by smart meters have failed to materialize. They are going back to analogs,” he said.
No one among the MLGW employees challenged him nor did they give good answers to questions raised by his presentation.
He could have continued, but Council woman Janis Fullilove said his time was up and another speaker’s turn was coming.
Next: The public’s reaction and one man’s story.