Members of the Smart Meter Objectors Group (SMOG) have taken Jefferson County Public Utility District (PUD) officials to task for email correspondence that members suggest indicates a decision to use …
Members of the Smart Meter Objectors Group (SMOG) have taken Jefferson County Public Utility District (PUD) officials to task for email correspondence that members suggest indicates a decision to use “smart” meters over analog ones has not been impartial. The group obtained the correspondence through public records requests.
Gail Lucas and Annette Huenke tag-teamed at a Feb. 20 PUD meeting, each reading what they saw as relevant excerpts of emails between PUD staff members, including Kevin Streett, assistant general manager, smart-meter manufacturer Itron and other agencies.
Streett did not respond to SMOG’s allegations during the meeting. After the meeting, Streett said that former general manager Jim Parker was already working on a project to replace all the electric meters with Itron meters before Streett was hired in November 2012. He also said he had recommended not switching to smart meters in 2013, because there was too much on the PUD’s plate at that point, with the PUD taking over the East Jefferson County holdings of Puget Sound Energy.
Lucas and Huenke had attended the PUD’s Oct. 30, 2017 meeting with the public at the Chimacum Fire Hall. They said they were so disappointed with the responses they received from PUD officials that they filed public records requests for the PUD’s emails related to smart meters.
“These records unfortunately illustrate an unvarnished attempt on the part of PUD staff to further their smart meter project, not only with Itron, but also with two consulting companies, EES and FCS,” Lucas said.
EES Consulting has worked for the PUD on a number of projects, including a rate study. FCS Group is a utility-consulting company based in Redmond.
‘DRIVING THIS TRAIN’
PUD officials did not correct Lucas’ or Huenke’s statements about the emails they found, which the two read aloud at the Feb. 20 meeting.
Lucas quoted an email sent Oct. 31, 2017 at 6:09 p.m. in which Streett wrote to a representative of Itron that “the meeting last night went very bad for our project. We need to regroup this morning.”
Streett received a response at 6:32 a.m.: “I am available after 8am.”
At 11:37 a.m. that same day, according to the emails Lucas and Huenke obtained from the PUD, the Itron contact wrote to Streett, “re: AMI meeting: update – I found an internal Itron resource to work on a business case for us. Target getting this to you before 11/7 board meeting – to include list of intangible benefits.”
On Nov. 1 at 8:24 a.m., after PUD staff forwarded Itron The Leader’s article about the PUD’s Oct. 30 meeting with the public, the Itron contact highlighted the one supportive public comment mentioned in the article, writing, “I like this quote, good [theme] to couple with the business case analysis and other benefits we are working on for board consideration.”
Lucas said her conclusion, based on those emails, is that “Itron was clearly driving this train.”
‘A GOOD DECISION’
Huenke went on to quote an email that Streett sent to EES Consulting Dec. 14, following a Dec. 12 PUD board meeting, which included the line “I also have a question if you could help us with a justification of our AMI project, can we talk about this?”
Gail Tabone of EES Consulting replied to Streett, “I can certainly help.... I’m around all day if you want to talk” and supplied a phone number.
Huenke claimed that the one-page document attached to that email had been “prepped” by Itron as a “business case analysis” and titled by PUD staff as “AMI Summary: A good decision.”
Huenke’s final quoted email was sent by Streett at 7:40 a.m. on Nov. 6 to Dana Smith, product manager of residential metering and software for Itron. In the email, he referred to his first day of work for the PUD:
“First day, talked about replacing all our [Landis] and Gyr meters with Itrons.”
Her reply, three minutes later: “I DO LIKE THAT!!”
‘THUMB ON THE SCALE’
Huenke contrasted these emails with comments made by Streett, PUD secretary Kenneth Collins and PUD president Jeff Randall during the Dec. 12, 2017 PUD meeting.
Huenke quoted Collins as saying, “My feeling is, we would be well-served to hire a consultant who specializes in this sort of analysis ... who can give us complete figures ... and a comparison upon which we can make an informed decision ... a consultant who has experience in this area, who can do the kind of objective and credible analysis we can use.”
At the Dec. 12 meeting, Streett said, “We could bring a consultant in. It wouldn’t be very expensive.” Randall replied, “If we could truly get an independent source that’s working for us, and would offer us the best business case and assessment of the technology that’s out there ... of what the problems have been with other utilities, I think that would be helpful for everybody.”
ITRON WATER METERS
After the Feb. 20 meeting, Streett responded by email to Leader questions about his experience with Itron, and noted that the PUD was working on meter replacement before he arrived.
Streett said his first day of work for the PUD was Nov. 2, 2012. At that point, Parker, then PUD general manager, was working on a project to replace all the electric meters with Itron meters.
“He had chosen Itron meters because the water department uses Itron meters,” Streett wrote. “In his proposal, the water meter reader would read all meters, both water and electric. The reason that Jim was working on this project was because he had to make a decision in regards to the meter reading contract with [Landis and Gyr]. At that time, we were spending $500,000 a year for them to read the meters.”
Streett said Parker’s proposal included the pricing of meters from the same supplier as the water meters, General Pacific, also known as Itron.
“He had a quote from a contractor to supply the labor to replace the meters,” Streett wrote. “He talked to the electrical union about the water department reading the meters, and talked to Springbrook, our billing software at the time, to see how the process worked for a meter change-out program. This was all done before Jim talked to me about the project. He also had financial justifications, based on the age of our meters, and known accuracy problems with older analog meters.”
Streett wrote that, after Parker spoke to him about the project, “I reached out to people I know in the industry.”
“After a couple of weeks, Jim and I met to talk about the project,” Streett wrote. “At that time, I advised against the PUD moving forward with the meter change-out program. Even though it needed to be done, it was too big a task for us to take on at that moment, given everything else we had on our plate. I believe Jim had come to the same conclusion, but I’m not sure.”
Prior to coming to the Jefferson County PUD, Streett described himself as “very active” in the utility industry, participating in a number of groups, conferences and trade organizations through which he met and befriended many people whom “I still call on today for help. I do not have all the answers, but I know people who do, and I’m not afraid to call and ask for help from the experts.”
Status of AMI meters
The Jefferson County Public Utility District began the bidding process last year to replace analog electrical meters with AMI – advanced metering infrastructure – meters. They also are referred to as “smart” meters.
Commissioners initially picked Itron, a company based in Liberty Lake, Washington, to provide the meters. Itron was one of nine companies that submitted information to the PUD; Itron was the lowest bidder.
A number of PUD customers have voiced concerns about the safety of smart meters as well as other issues, including long-term cost.
The project was been put on hold, as was a decision on a policy allowing people to “opt out” of using smart meters, until the PUD could hire a new general manager.
PUD commissioners set a May 1 target date for staff to present findings of how other utilities have handled moving from an analog to a smart-meter technology.
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