PUD smart meter issues surface

Allison Arthur, aarthur@ptleader.com
Posted 10/24/17

Jefferson County Public Utility District’s (PUD) pending switch to smart meters has prompted a surge of questions.

Although PUD commissioners voted last summer to choose Itron, a company based …

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PUD smart meter issues surface

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Jefferson County Public Utility District’s (PUD) pending switch to smart meters has prompted a surge of questions.

Although PUD commissioners voted last summer to choose Itron, a company based in Liberty Lake, Washington, to supply 19,500 new meters to replace all of the system’s aging meters (many of which are 30 years old), PUD spokesperson Will O’Donnell said commissioners are still taking comments on the project.

Former PUD general manager Jim Parker had said the project could take three years to complete, would begin at the end of the year and cost an estimated $2.5 million.

MEETINGS, FILM

PUD commissioners are to discuss the new meters at a meeting scheduled for 5 p.m., Monday, Oct. 30 at the Jefferson County Fire District 1 station, 9193 Rhody Drive in Chimacum.

Before that meeting, a new citizen action group, Smart Meter Objectors Group (SMOG), plans to show a film about smart electrical meters. “Take Back Your Power” is to be screened at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 25 at the Port Townsend Community Center, 620 Tyler St., as a way to introduce people to what organizers are calling a “global controversy.”

Joey Pipia, a member of SMOG, said the group has 6-10 members, who are raising objections to the smart meters based on cost increases and concerns about health, safety, privacy and security.

“It’s still kind of a new technology,” Pipia said. “Maybe a couple of generations down the road, these problems will be ironed out. I think people who see the movie will understand why it’s something that we should be talking about.”

In a press release, SMOG members said there are organizations around the United States opposed to smart meters.

WHAT'S SMART?

PUD assistant general manager Kevin Streett and PUD communications manager O’Donnell met Oct. 20 with some members of SMOG, including Ana Wolpin, Annette Huenke, Sebastian Eggert and others, to hear their concerns, O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell acknowledged that Streett has the answers to the technical questions SMOG is raising, and since Streett took over for former PUD general manager Jim Parker, he’s had additional responsibilities.

One thing that PUD officials say people may not realize is that there are already “smart meters” in Jefferson County – depending on the definition of smart meter.

“Every meter in Jefferson County, whether digital and less than a year old, or digital and over 10 years old or 30-plus-year-old analog, has a radio transmitter inside of it that sends an RF [radio frequency] signal every five minutes for reading remotely,” O'Donnell wrote in response to questions from The Leader.

That is the system inherited by the PUD when it purchased the local holdings of Puget Sound Energy in 2013, O’Donnell said.

“Some folks want to call these meters (even if they are analog meters retrofitted with a radio broadcaster inside) smart meters. We don't call them smart meters. We call them AMRs [automated meter reading]. But if you think a meter that can send out your usage data via radio frequency to a remote source is a smart meter, then it's a smart meter,” O'Donnell wrote.

The proposed new meters, O'Donnell wrote, “will be smarter than before” because the new meters can be programmed to transmit once every four hours instead of once every five minutes.

O’Donnell said the new meters won't be sending and receiving signals to other “smart” devices in homes, such as a programmable thermostat.

“You won't be able to call your meter and tell it to tell the water heater to chill out for an extra three hours while you're away from home or on an extended trip,” O'Donnell wrote. “You will, in the future, be able to get daily rather than monthly readings of your energy consumption,” which is available on a SmartHub app. (Smart Hub apps are available at jeffpud.org and connect customers to data the PUD collects about power consumption, for example.)

FAILING METERS

O'Donnell said the purpose of exchanging the old meters for new meters is because of the hodgepodge of meters that are failing.

“Sixty percent of the meter population is the high-failure, low-accuracy mechanical type,” Streett told commissioners earlier this year when he gave a PowerPoint presentation that noted that 450 meters fail each year and that 30 percent are incapable of being read daily because of their age.

The new meters should help the PUD respond more quickly to outages, ensure fewer power spikes and allow the utility to read meters remotely, Streett said earlier this summer.

At the same time, Streett acknowledged that some customers could see their bills go up.

“We don’t like to say their bills are going up. We like to say they’ll be charged the correct amount,” Streett said.

OPT-OUT OPTION

Since that presentation, the PUD has been looking at a possible opt-out program for those customers who don't want the new meters. That has not been finalized, O'Donnell said.

There also is a new lower-cost option from a company called Powerline Communication that would have the meter send a signal, via power line, to a transformer. Then, a transmitter on the transformer would catch the signal and broadcast it from the pole, instead of the house, O’Donnell explained.

“For those looking to avoid an RF-emitting meter, this option could be a solution,” O'Donnell wrote. “It would also eliminate the need for a meter reader to come to the site, costing the PUD and the homeowner less money.”

CONCERNS BY SMOG

Pipia said concerns being raise by SMOG include higher bills after smart meters are installed, as well as concerns about pulsed microwave radiation and electrical pollution.

There also are concerns about smart meters not providing surge protection, being susceptible to catching on fire and communicating with other “smart” devices.

SMOG members also are concerned about smart meters potentially being able to communicate with “smart” appliances and then having that data collected and sold to third parties.

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