EUGENE, Ore. - Eugene Water & Electric Board directors say energy saving/smart meters are coming, but only for customers who want them. Program opponents argue the new policy doesn't go far enough.
That's the upshot of action from the EWEB board Tuesday night, going with a voluntary smart meter program.
"If they don't want one, they don't have to have one, It's pretty simple," explains utility spokesman Joe Harwood.
He says customer choice, not public criticism is driving the new go slow approach. Harwood adds long term, the smart meters will save money through fewer meter readers and conservation.
"We believe we can shave our peak consumption and that will in the long run allow us to not build new generating plants," said Harwood.
Instead of rolling out the program in 2017, EWEB would build it up through voluntary pilot projects.
Harwood adds, however, costs may not drop much from the initial $24 million estimate. He explained customers who don't want to make the switch and stick with the old meters won't be hit with $200 fines. Still - that doesn't go far enough for smart meter opponents.
"I don't trust EWEB's judgment. I don't trust anything that Roger Gray says," says Jack Dresser, referring to EWEB's General Manager, Roger Gray.
Dresser of the group Families for Safe Meters says the utility is not being up front about possible costs and health risks from the radio frequency (RF) emitted from the meters.
"The precautionary principle means that this is potentially dangerous; there's evidence that it's dangerous; there's evidence that it's carcinogenic," he added.
Harwood maintains the RF danger is blown out of proportion, comparing it to a cellphone.
"It's a 1 watt radio, but you don't go walking around town with your electric meter up to your head," says Harwood.
Opponents Tuesday night urged EWEB to hold off installing smart meters for ten years until all the health concerns are fully settled. Meanwhile, Harwood says the first pilot programs could be launched next year.