June 12, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

EWEB releases statement on smart meter access issues

4 min read
If satisfactory access to the meter is not provided, the customer service policy authorizes EWEB to take actions that include disconnection of service.

from Eugene Water & Electric Board

A small but vocal group of Eugene Water and Electric Board customers is refusing EWEB access to the meter on their property or taking actions aimed at obstructing EWEB’s ability to maintain utility equipment, both of which violate customer service policy and conditions of service.

A group has taken out ads in the Eugene Weekly with misleading information urging customers to “keep your analog meter.” Some of these customers have threatened violence if EWEB attempts to exercise our rights to maintain and replace the meter, which is utility-owned equipment.

EWEB management and commissioners respect customers’ private property rights, but utility personnel need to, and have the right to access meters at any time, whether for maintenance, inspections, or during a power outage.

EWEB is acting under thoroughly evaluated, approved, and legal policy.

EWEB customer service policy allows for the account holder to choose a non-communicating mode for the meter; it does not allow the customer to choose the meter type or model.

Like poles, wires, and transformers, meters are owned and operated by EWEB; allowing EWEB to access and maintain utility-owned equipment is a condition of service for all customers.

If satisfactory access to the meter is not provided, the customer service policy authorizes EWEB to take actions that include disconnection of service. We have implemented a process that offers multiple touchpoints and opportunities for customers to understand their options, communicate directly with EWEB staff, and make a policy-conforming choice to avoid disconnection of services.

We have honored the public process – the manual meter reading option (opt-out) is responsive to the concerns of smart grid opponents.

Based on our opt-out rate, the vast majority of EWEB customers are either neutral or supportive of smart technology. Since beginning deployment in 2018, only 3% of customers have elected manual meter reading. An even smaller number (less than 0.5%) have taken the extreme action of refusing EWEB access to the meter.

EWEB staff and commissioners understand that some customers feel very passionately against smart grid technology, despite the research of organizations like the World Health Organization and the Federal Communications Commission showing there are no health or safety effects.

To accommodate customer requests, EWEB selected technology that enables some meters in the network to operate with the communicating radio turned off. This is not an option offered by all utilities.

We continue to make it easy for customers to elect manual meter reading if they do not want the meter to transmit and receive information. However, it has not been EWEB’s intent or policy to allow customers to retain a legacy meter long-term, or to choose the meter type.

EWEB staff and commissioners have extensively deliberated smart meters for many years dating back to the 1990s.

EWEB has been studying smart meters for over two decades. This has been a very transparent process, with over 25 public meetings specifically on this metering technology.

We are confident the technology is mature, and the meters meet our high safety and security standards.

Smart meters are a common and proven technology; more than 119 million smart meters are in place throughout the United States according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, about 72% of total electric meter installations.

Smart meters intermittently transmit and receive information using low-energy radio frequency waves similar to those utilized by cell phones, Bluetooth speakers, and smart thermostats, but much less often and for a shorter duration.

With the communicating radio turned off, a smart meter operates essentially like a traditional meter, providing usage measurements without actively transmitting data to the utility.

We can’t rely on outdated tools and technology to solve modern problems.

While respecting individual customer rights, EWEB is tasked with making decisions that serve the greater benefit of the majority and contribute to the safety, security, and progress of our community as a whole.

Traditional grid management equipment served its purpose in the past, but it lacks the capabilities needed to address the complexities and challenges we face today.

Smart grid capabilities are essential to meeting EWEB and community goals, including providing different rate structures, improving energy forecasting and procurement, reducing carbon content, improving outage response, and encouraging conservation.

Accompanying the April 15 statement, an EWEB spokesperson added: “As part of our efforts to resolve the individual issues, EWEB staff are visiting each customer’s home to offer a personal, face-to-face conversation with the customer to answer questions and be sure they understand their options and the consequences if they continue to refuse to comply with EWEB’s conditions of service. Ultimately this refusal will lead to disconnection of electric service. A meter technician and security officer make up the team visiting customers directly. The security officer is present because of direct and credible threats of physical violence made against EWEB employees. 

“We are concerned about some of the content being circulated by the group Families for Safe Technology, particularly stock images of armed police/swat teams and references to an ‘EWEB Gestapo.’ This is not only egregious and insensitive, it is potentially dangerous. Our security officers are not armed. Threatening violence against utility employees and posting misleading pictures of armed officers is unacceptable and goes against the values of EWEB and our community.”

For more information about EWEB’s position, see “Common Questions about Smart Meters” on EWEB’s website.

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