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Politics

'Smart Meters' Generating Static as More Counties Seek to Opt Out

May 23, 2012 - 6:00pm

Florida Power & Light has installed 3.3 million "smart" electric meters, with another 1 million to go.

Critics say the $800 million program is a dumb waste of money, or worse.

Three counties -- Brevard, Charlotte and Indian River -- have formally requested that the state Public Service Commission allow them to opt out of the program. Volusia County has requested that the PSC enable residents only to opt into the changeover.

On Monday, the Flagler County Commission voted to draft a letter asking that the PSC permit its residents to opt out as well.

The mini-rebellion against the new digital, radio-frequency technology is well under way in California, which adopted smart meters three years ago. Eleven counties and 60 cities in the Golden State now want their meters pulled out.

FPL officials say it's a lot of static about nothing.

"There's much more accuracy with the smart meters," says FPL spokeswoman Elaine Hinsdale. She said the meters, which are manufactured by General Electric in Bradenton are run through a rigorous battery of tests before installation.

Of all the meters installed thus far, Hinsdale said, "One-tenth of 1 percent of customers have expressed concern."

In those cases, she said FPL "will temporarily postpone installation" until all units are in place. "Then we will re-evaluate and see if there are any outstanding issues."

Since Florida cities and counties have no authority over the program, all disputes are in the PSC's court. The commission said it is "formalizing a process" to evaluate smart-meter issues.

"The process would then allow for full stakeholder participation," Hinsdale assured.

Meantime, smart-meter skeptics are charging ahead with reams of scientific data that purport to show dangers and deficiencies in the devices.

In addition to 8,000 Californians filing health complaints, the World Health Organization in May 2011 rated the radiation coming from smart meters on the "Class 2-B Carcinogen" list, along with leaded gasoline, DDT, exhaust, chlordane and chloroform.

Other groups have claimed that radio-frequency emanating from smart meters interferes with wireless equipment such as wi-fi and causes malfunctioning of medical equipment, such as pacemakers, wireless insulin pumps, ventilators and even baby monitors.

Hinsdale responds that the FPL meters pose no threat to human health or technology.

"I have an inch-think binder of accredited studies. In comparison with cell phones, [the radio-frequency power of smart meters] is hundreds of times weaker," she says.

Hinsdale said that residential smart meters are "dormant 99 percent of time, sending micosecond pulses throughout the day."

Among the advantages, she says, is customers' ability to log onto the FPL website and track household electric usage hour by hour, day by day.

Still, skeptics worry that the smart meters will enable the utility -- or even terrorists -- to shut down power at the flip of a central switch.

"They will be able to control the demand," says Peg Black, a Volusia County activist.

But Hinsdale assures FPL customers -- who currently enjoy the lowest electric rates of the state's 55 utilities -- that the "most stringent measures" are used to safeguard security and data.

Though the conversation program is costing FPL $800 million, $200 million was underwritten by federal stimulus funds, leaving$600 million to be spread across FPL's 35-county service area.

Opponents are hoping that if more counties demand to opt out from the changeover, the PSC will do what some European countries and scientists have urged -- take another look at the wisdom of smart meters.

Contact Kenric Ward at kward@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 801-5341.

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