Clallam County Public Utility District began ordering smart meters last week after similar efforts struck out in Port Angeles and Jefferson County, spurred in part by ratepayers’ opposition.
Clallam PUD commissioners, who selected a vendor for the $3.75 million, five-year project last week, are expecting an opt-out clause will mollify ratepayers opposed to the smart-meter, electric-usage measuring devices, which emit low-level electromagnetic radiation.
As areas are converted, customers can pay a $30-a-month fee for a meter reader to record a ratepayer’s electric usage in person rather than have information transmitted directly to and from the utility through smart meters.
From 2019-2023, the utility will install 22,000 smart meters on homes and businesses, starting with Neah Bay and Sequim and ending, in 2023, in the Port Angeles area, PUD Assistant Manager John Purvis said.
The project will replace 67 percent of the PUD’s meters with two-way meters.
The remaining 12,000 meters are one-way RF devices that also emit electromagnetic radiation but are read by “drive-by” meter readers without PUD employees exiting their vehicles.
Those meters can be replaced after 2023, Purvis said.
The $750,000 a year the PUD will spend on the project is already being budgeted for the current drive-by metering program, Purvis said.
The smart-meter program was discussed at three meetings of the PUD board, including during budget deliberations.
The board holds 1:30 p.m. meetings the second and fourth Monday every month.
When the drive-by meters were being considered about three years ago, about a half-dozen ratepayers came to a PUD board meeting and expressed concern over low-level electromagnetic radiation that emanates from those meters, too, Commissioner Will Purser said on Jan. 18.
That’s when the opt-out program was initiated.
“Very, very few people have opted out,” Purser said. “We felt we should give them the opportunity if they are concerned about it.”
He and other PUD officials say the devices that will replace the mechanical meters at residences and businesses will expedite responses to outages.
They said the meters also will provide ratepayers with immediate knowledge on their electric usage and create an eventual $451,000-a-year reduction in the utility’s cost of service, saving customers an average $14.50 a year in higher costs, Purvis said.
“The bills will be about $14.50 a year higher if we don’t do this,” he said.
“This is one of the projects where we will have a net reduction in rates.”
The city of Port Angeles approved a $760,000 settlement with Atlanta, Ga.-based Mueller Systems in 2014 over software issues and project delays in an advanced-metering-infrastructure (AMI) smart-meter system that was criticized by opponents over health concerns, which city officials said had nothing to do with the settlement.
City Attorney Bill Bloor said last week that an issue with an opt-out provision was its impact on the goal of saving money if employees are still physically reading meters.
“When the opposition started to show itself, then the question was, can we achieve, can this still be, a benefit to electric ratepayers if we have an opt-out provision,” he said.
The Jefferson County PUD in March put on indefinite hold a meter replacement program after entering into a purchase agreement for 19,000 smart meters — and after more than 800 customers signed a petition asking for an analog-meter choice.
Landis and Gyr, the Swiss meter-manufacturing giant that reads Jefferson County PUD’s meters, was selected Monday by Clallam PUD commissioners as the sole-source provider of the meters and will receive the bulk of the $3.75 million dedicated to the project, Purvis said.
“I would say roughly $3 million of that $3.75 million will be meter costs,” he said, adding that state law allows the utility to select a sole-source provider for the project and not go out to bid.
Landis & Gyr supplies 38 percent of the North American Market for smart meters and is the only company that manufactures both power line meters, used primary in remote areas such as Neah Bay and other areas of the West End, where line-of-sight is an issue, and residential radio-frequency meters.
Purvis said 50 percent- 60 percent of the U.S. uses smart meters.
“We are on the lagging edge, and our costs are going to remain higher if we do not proceed with this project,” Purvis said.
He said that over five years, the six-person meter reading staff will be reduced by three positions through attrition and other PUD jobs in engineering, customer service, apprenticeships, and the water department.
“There will be quite a few opening over the course of four or five years,” he said.
The other three positions will remain in the meter shop.
“We don’t anticipated anyone losing a job over this primarily because of the extended conversion period that this is going to take.
“We’ve been looking (at) and evaluating this over an extended period of time.”
Purvis said fewer than 20 customers have opted out of the program, similar to Mason County Public Utility District, where about 30 opted out.
Purvis said he expects the district’s 5,000 water meters also to be replaced with smart meters.
Eloise Kailin, a board member of Protect the Peninsula’s Future, which has protested the move, said there are health concerns including sleep disorders and malignancies associated with smart meters.
“This is a regrettable decision,” she said last week. “It’s a bad decision from the standpoint of human health.”
She suggested that fighting the smart meters might be a losing battle.
“It’s very difficult to keep that technology down,” she said.
“People in general enjoy the convenience.”
According to the American Cancer Society, the radio frequency waves given off by smart meters are similar to that of a typical cellphone or residential Wi-Fi router and send and receive short messages about 1 percent of the time, (https://tinyurl.com/PDN-SmartMeters).
Location of the smart meter antennae outside the home reduces exposure, according to the organization.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies radio-frequency radiation as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
“It would be nearly impossible to conduct a study to prove or disprove a link between living in a house with smart meters and cancer because people have so many sources of exposure to RF and the level of exposure from the source is so small,” the ACS said.
“Exposure to large amounts of RF radiation, as from accidents involving radar, has resulted in severe burns.
“No other serious health problems have been reported.”
Paul Gottlieb is a Senior Staff Writer with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. He can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.