Fairfield Ledger

Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 22, 2018

Utility board hears about smart meters

Residents ask for analog meters at public meeting
By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor | Jun 22, 2018
Photo by: ANDY HALLMAN/Ledger photo Fairfield Mayor Ed Malloy asks the Iowa Utilities Board to allow the town’s residents to opt-out of smart electric meters in favor of analog devices Thursday during the IUB’s public meeting in the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center.

One after another, Fairfield residents approached the microphone Thursday in the Stephen Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts to share their thoughts on Alliant Energy’s plan to install smart electric meters.

Nearly all speakers opposed the plan, and pleaded with Alliant to give them an opt-out so they could continue using their analog meter.


Iowa Utilities Board

The meeting at the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center was organized by the Iowa Utilities Board as a public hearing for Alliant Energy’s proposed base rate increase, which the board can approve or deny. Anne Lenzen, Alliant Energy’s director of regulatory affairs, said at the beginning of the meeting that the utility has not raised base rates in six years. She said the average residential monthly bill for natural gas is $52, and this increase would make it about $60.

Lenzen said that “no one likes increasing rates,” but told the audience that the $60 figure projected is actually lower than what rates were a few years ago when the price of natural gas was higher.

Lenzen was joined on stage by Alliant Energy’s vice president Terry Kouba. Kouba said smart meters are safe and have become accepted as standard across the energy industry.

The three members of the Iowa Utilities Board were present, and they are Nick Wagner, Richard Lozier and chairwoman Geri Huser, who ran the meeting. Also on stage were Mark Schuling and Jeff Cook from the Office of Consumer Advocate, a division of the Iowa Department of Justice. They attended the meeting because they will prepare a recommendation about whether the IUB should accept Alliant’s proposed base rate increase, and on its plan to roll out smart meters in 2019.

Each person wishing to speak needed to fill out an index card with their name on it ahead of time and submit it to an IUB representative. Huser called out the names of people who submitted cards and they queued behind the two microphones in the audience. Everyone was given three minutes to speak.


Public comments

Nearly all of the comments were about smart meters, most of them touching on perceived ill health effects they’ve caused in other cities. Robert Palma said published research shows people exposed to smart meter radiation suffer from sleep disturbance, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and depression, among other things.

Moira Haines spoke about how radiation, including that from cell phones, erodes the blood-brain barrier that prevents certain substances from reaching the brain and spinal cord. She said a study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives showed brain tissue damage in rats exposed to cell phones.

At a public meeting held in November at the convention center, Alliant distributed information showing that smart meters emit less radiation standing three feet away than do cell phones held at a person’s ear. Alliant notes that the Federal Communications Commission sets radio frequency limits, and that radiation from smart meters is “many times lower than the FCC standard,” according to Alliant’s website. Alliant argues that “numerous scientific studies” by the World Health Organization have confirmed the small amount of radiation from smart meters is not harmful to human health.

Haddington O’Heart and John Lippman each argued that FCC’s standards are not meaningful. O’Heart said the FCC is a compromised organization because it is dominated by the industries it is supposed to regulate.


Alliant: Analogs will have to go

Alliant has maintained that retaining analog meters will not be possible, and that the only options residents will have are a non-transmitting smart meter or a digital meter, which they will read themselves and have to pay a monthly fee for. In November, Alliant representatives said the one-time sign up fee for this service would be $100-$125, plus a monthly fee of between $15-$25.

Shai Perelson objected to Alliant requiring an opt-out fee for what he believes is a safer service.

“The tobacco industry said for decades there was no evidence smoking is bad for you,” he said. “It took almost a millenium to [criminalize] smoking in public areas. Imagine how ridiculous it would be today to walk into a hotel and request a non-smoking room, and have the clerk tell you that you’ll have to pay an additional [fee].”

Perelson likened the ill health effects of second-hand smoke to the radiation from smart meters.


Delay requested

Kathy Matara asked the IUB to postpone Alliant’s plan to install smart meters for three years to complete an environmental and health study on the devices. She said she observed on Kauai island that birds and bees left an area once a meter was changed from analog to smart. She also requested that IUB obtain the manuals for smart meters, which she believed would indicate exactly how much radiation they emit in a day.

Fairfield Mayor Ed Malloy said he has been working with Alliant Energy since February 2017 on an opt-out program.

“The reason I got involved that early was because the city had already gone through this,” Malloy said. “The city had a water utility that was installing smart meters in 2011-2012 that we at the council were not aware of.”

Malloy said residents informed the council of the smart water meters, and within two months the council passed an ordinance allowing them to opt-out of the smart water meters. He said an opt-out fee was proposed there as well, though it was eventually dropped because the council did not believe it benefitted the town.

Malloy asked the IUB to consider an opt-out for analog meters for these electric meters, too.

“Alliant, we are your customer. Please go the extra mile for us,” he said.

Emily Kelly objected to Alliant’s policy of not allowing solar energy customers to opt-out of smart meters. She quoted an Iowa Public Utility regulation preventing discrimination against renewable energy customers regarding rates, continuity of service or for any other reason.

Susan Watterson said customers should have to opt-in to smart meters, not have to opt-out. David Lucas Burge said the opposition to smart meters is not going away, and that eventually, a class action lawsuit might be in the works.



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