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FPL smart meters spark concerns

OKEECHOBEE—Despite the protests and fears, Florida Power and Light is going ahead with its installation of the new digital smart meter on area homes and businesses.

The new meter will replace analog meters and is part of the power provider's investment into smart grid technology aimed at making their service more reliable and efficient.

The new digital meters also make it convenient for customers to go online and monitor their use of electricity.

FPL started swapping out the meters in 2009 and, so far, have installed 3.4 million throughout Florida.

According to FPL spokesperson Elaine Hinsdale the company began installing the new meters in Okeechobee in April and have completed 53 percent of the 22,617 to be installed locally.

"Okeechobee will be fully activated by October," she said in a phone interview Tuesday, June 19. "It takes about three months to install the meters and about another three months of testing."

While the new meters are expected to improve FPL's service, they are also sparking some controversy.
Opponents claim the meters are a health hazard due to the radio frequency emitted by the device; that they are a fire hazard; and, the meter could let hackers know if a home is occupied or not.

Because of those perceptions, some county commissions in Florida have passed resolutions allowing citizens to opt out of having the new meters placed on their homes. As of May 1 Indian River, Volusia, Brevard and Charlotte counties have all passed anti-smart meter resolutions.

Even Okeechobee County commissioners have considered that idea.

"(But) I don't think they're going to do anything," said county administrator Robbie Chartier, who did some research on the matter for Commissioner Ray Domer.
Instead, she added, local commissioners are going to pay close attention to a workshop held by the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC).

PSC Media Director Cynthia Muir said the commission will hold a smart meter workshop in Tallahassee on Sept. 20 where customer comments and complaints will be considered. However, she added, the commission has no jurisdiction over the installment of the meters by FPL.

"Our only jurisdiction is to make sure the meter is reliable and accurate," she said.

Ms. Muir went on to say she last checked with the PSC's call center in April and they had received about 270 calls protesting the new meter.

"But, I don't think they had any (calls) with specifics," she added.

When asked if any of the protest calls dealt with health problems allegedly caused by the radio transmissions of the new meter, Ms. Muir said smart meters have to meet Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requirements on radio frequency.

She also pointed out that "the PSC does not have jurisdiction over health matters."

Ms. Hinsdale said she has reports and expert testimony stating that the meters do not represent a health hazard to customers.

"No health agency has documented any hazards to health," she said. "For 100 years we've had radio waves in our lives. The frequencies of the meters are very low. The smart meter is off 99 percent of the time. And the 1 percent it is on is for no more than a minute or two a day."

As for the new meter being a fire hazard, Ms. Hinsdale said that simply isn't true.

"The smart meter cannot combust, cannot ignite and cannot cause a fire," she said. "When we have references to a fire it's usually a faulty wire. We remind customers to have their wiring inspected on a regular basis -- every 10 to 15 years. When a meter is swapped out, our installers do an inspection of the wiring coming into the home."

It's also not true that the new meters can provide information on the home and its residents to the nefarious. It does not tell anyone the name, date of birth, Social Security number or number of people in the home.

"None of that information is being transmitted," Ms. Hinsdale said.

What the meter does say, she continued, is how much power is being used by the day, month and year. The customer can now go to wwwFPL.com and follow their use of electricity. By using the ‘energy dashboard' customers can also get an estimate of their next bill and compare their energy use to previous billing periods.

The new technology will also alert FPL if there is a problem with a transformer so that power can be rerouted.

And although some counties have passed opt-out resolutions, Ms. Hinsdale said that has not stopped their installations.

"That's not restricting anything we're doing right now. We're still moving forward in Brevard County," she pointed out. "The few who have resistance will be put on hold. When completed next summer, we will address those who resisted and see how best to meet their needs."

Besides homes, Ms. Hinsdale said her company is installing about 350,000 smart meters for commercial and industrial customers throughout Florida.

If you have a concern about the smart meter, the PSC call center can be reached at 800-342-3552. Customers can also go to the commission's web site-www.psc.state.fl.us-and register their concerns by using the PSC complaint form.