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Smart Meter Controversy Prompts Outcry, Opt-Out Policy

Plans to award a $29 million smart meter contract in Independence, Mo., were met with considerable criticism from the public. But a proposed policy could give citizens the ability to avoid the technology altogether.

(TNS) — If Independence ultimately completes a contract for advanced metering infrastructure, or "smart meters," it has a proposed opt-out policy for many utility customers.

The proposed policy, which includes no charge for opting out, is scheduled to be on the City Council's May 6 agenda. It would be used if and when smart meters are implemented.

A council majority approved a $29 million contract earlier this month to install smart meters, but a group of citizens started a petition to put the matter to public vote, leading a different majority to instruct the city manager's office to hold off on the contract pending the outcome of that petition.

Citizens have until May 6 to gather more than 3,000 valid signatures – 5 percent of the city's registered voters – to get the issue on the ballot. Even before approving the contract, the council had already voted that any smart meter contract include an opt-out policy.

Brent Schondelmeyer of the citizens group Indy Energy, which has advocated for the smart meter program, said the opt-out policy is what the city needed.

"For those people that have concerns about smart meters, they have a chance to retain a mechanical meter," he said. "It gives clarity to a question that's been out there; it should offer some comfort and assurance."

The opt-out program would be available to all utility account owners who own the property associated with the account, with some exceptions:

  • Most commercial and industrial utility customers.
  • Utility customers participating in special programs, such as net metering for solar energy production.
  • Account holders living in multi-unit housing structures.
  • Utility accounts with a meter that is inaccessible due to obstructions, hazardous conditions, animals or denied access.
  • Utility accounts with a history of meter tampering.
Non-property owners who wish to opt out of the smart meter program must receive written permission from the property owner. Whether that applies solely to those who rent a whole building or a unit of a privately owned building is not specified.

The policy also says account owners who opt out will provide the city with a completed request form signifying agreement with the outlined terms and conditions. The city has not yet completed that form.

In addition, they city says, account owners who opt out won't be able to participate in potential savings strategies or benefits associated with AMI. Those include pre-pay service, future alternative rate structures, access to some features of the customer portal, enhanced safety features, automated power outage reporting and water leak detection notification.

The policy also states "There will be no initial charge for opting out of this program." An earlier version of the policy also noted in future years, when most other meters are read electronically, charges might be assessed due to costs from manually reading meters. The updated version of the policy does not include such language.

Schondelmeyer said he hoped that having an opt-out policy would quell the displeasure of citizens who had various safety concerns about smart meters.

"Though I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge there would be other issues," he said, referring to how the vote for approval came up unexpectedly a week after many thought the proposed project was dead.

City officials first started discussing smart meters about four years ago, and in all the City Council has voted four times on the issue. The latest vote, the 4-3 approval of the contract with the company Core & Main, came a week after two smart meter contracts got turned down by 5-2 votes.

Analysts have projected about $44 million in net savings for the city over 15 years, with a break-even at about eight years and 15 positions. The project would be paid for with cash reserves on hand with the utilities. Two council members, Mike Huff and Karen DeLuccie have questioned if the smart meter program will realize those savings based on the personnel plans they've seen.

©2019 The Examiner, Independence, Mo. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.