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Chelan City Council hears two sides of two-way digital ‘smart meter’ debate

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The Chelan County PUD is working towards transitioning the current utility meters to advanced two-way meters which will transmit data remotely. (Courtesy of Chelan County PUD)

During the Chelan City Council meeting held on Aug 8, 2017, Suzanne Hartman, the Chelan County PUD communications manager and representatives from the Concerned Citizens of Chelan Opposing Smart Meters were invited to present facts and opinions on the proposed installation of smart meters.

Smart meters, also known as advanced two-way digital meters, aim to connect homes and businesses to the PUD and collect customer meter reads automatically. There would be no cost to the customer for the new smart meters.

Customer energy-use information is sent several times a day to the PUD, using radio frequency (RF) waves. According to Chelan County PUD, this is similar to the wireless communications used by cell phones and WiFi. The meters will transmit data for a maximum of 90-seconds per day.

As with the existing electric meter, the digital meter is installed on the outside of the home or business. Actual data transmission using RF waves occurs in milliseconds or less than one minute per day. Once the transmission is within PUD’s firewall, the information is matched up with customer accounts for billing and other customer service activities.

“If we take a look at the customer benefits that we have identified and talked to customers about, it’s the ability to manage and reduce their energy usage,” Hartmann explained. “The estimates are about 3-5% reduction in energy use. You can also, receive outage notifications. In Chelan County, at least 30-percent if not more of our customers, are not resident customers. They would be able to be notified if there is an outage.”

Representatives from Chelan County PUD and the Concerned Citizens of Chelan Opposing Smart Meters were invited to present facts and opinions on the proposed installation of smart meters. (Photo by Stephanie Quiroz)

Hartman went on to explain the benefits of the new meters for the PUD. “For the utility there is positive return on the investment at about 8-percent or $1.1-million. It helps us reduce our operating costs. We will have reduced travel time and carbon emissions of the trucks that go out. We will have faster response times to outages.”

Currently, power outages are reported to the utility by the customer or if a meter reader notices the outage while monitoring.

“I understand there is an opt-out option, but is there is a cost to that?” Councilmember Ray Dobbs asked.

“That has not been calculated, but there is an opt-out option,” Hartman replied.

“We are not only looking at opt-out but something which the industry calls opt-up,” Hartman said regarding the PUD looking into vendors who might offer the use of the fiber lines rather than the smart meters.

Mayor Mike Cooney asked that Hartman address the common complaint from concerned citizens regarding the potential, if any, for violation of privacy.

“The meter will not see beyond your wall about how you are using your power,” Hartman explained. “The other issue is security. When that meter emits the signals, it is emitting ones and zeroes. It is simply data. The only time it is tied to an account is when it is behind the firewall at the PUD, and we can assign it to a customer for billing.”

“I am wondering what happens to the one-way meters?” a citizen asked.

“We would save the parts that we could use, and recycle what we could not,” Hartman explained.

Chelan City Council members hears two sides to the advanced two-way meter debate on Aug 8, 2017. (Photo by Stephanie Quiroz)

The group known as Concerned Citizens of Chelan Opposing Smart Meters were invited to speak next during the meeting.

Robyn Casal, a 24-year resident of Chelan, spoke first from the opposition group. “We all agree that the health risks of installing smart meters far outweigh any possible net cost benefit.” Casal stated.

Casal went on to explain that in Europe the medical community recognizes overexposure to radio frequency waves which the smart meter emits, as a condition known as electro-sensitivity.

“Since the nineties, we have seen a huge rise in conditions and diseases such as autism, tinnitus, Parkinson’s, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, to name a few,” Casal stated. “These physicians believe that the biggest factor to the rise is this overexposure to radio frequency which smart meters emit.”

The Chelan PUD addresses reports relating to health concerns and radio frequency on their website at https://www.chelanpud.org/learning-center/advanced-meters/health-information.

“The PUD tells us that meters put off less radio frequency than cell phones, but both cell phones and routers can be turned off. What would you choose? Would you give up your sell phones to install smart meters or keep your cell phones?” Casal asked.

Laura Folsom spoke next for the opposition. Folsom focused on the lack of research done and or published by the World Health Organization on smart meters and radio frequencies.

No motion was made regarding the advanced meter issue during the Aug. 8 meeting and Mayor Mike Cooney explained that the discussion would be ongoing. (Photo by Stephanie Quiroz)

“We are operating on research data from 1996 radio frequency research. Who had cell phones and laptops and all this technology in their homes at that time?” Folsom pointed out.

Another speaker, Suzanne Keller, expressed that through the group’s interactions with the community collecting signatures for a petition against the installation of the meters, privacy was a concern for many signers.

“They felt that it’s just one more means of infiltrating our privacy,” Keller said of public opinion in the group’s experience. “With this in mind, I think we need to take all of our privacy concerns seriously. Smart meters are not a surveillance device, but they are collecting our data.”

Keller questioned how secure the network is that is collecting the data, and what will be done with the data collected?

“PUD says it won’t be shared or sold. I think that is their intention today, but what about down the road? Can they give us guarantee that in ten years they won’t be selling our data?” Keller stated.

“It’s not the end of the road on this discussion. I know it will continue on,” Mayor Cooney stated.

No vote or motion was made regarding the issue and the issue will continue to be considered by council with Councilmember Dobbs asking Hartman to look into the whether the city has the option to opt-out.

Chelan City Council meets regularly on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of each month in Chelan City Hall at 6 p.m. The public is always invited to the regular meetings to make comments during the first portion of the meetings.

(By Jillian Foster)

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