FPL, Foes of Smaer Meters Square Off

Posted at 3:31 PM, Oct 01, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-01 15:31:00-04

Tallahassee, FL (WTXL) -- State regulators Tuesday took up a dispute about a Florida Power & Light plan to collect extra money from thousands of customers who refuse to allow "smart" meters to gauge electricity use.

The dispute involves only a fraction of FPL's customers, but it is part of a broader controversy in which critics say they worry the new meter technology could pose threats to their privacy or health.

The state Public Service Commission earlier this year agreed to allow FPL to collect a $95 "enrollment" fee and $13-a-month surcharges from customers who won't allow smart meters at their homes. But that prompted customer challenges, which led to a hearing that lasted throughout the day Tuesday and was expected to continue into the evening.

FPL in recent years has installed about 4.5 million smart meters, which in part allow electricity use to be monitored remotely. The utility contends that older-style meters are now "non-standard" and that people who choose to use those meters should pay extra to cover costs such as meter reading. Without those extra charges, FPL says other customers would have to help pick up the tab.

Robert Onsgard, an FPL project manager, testified during Tuesday's hearing that the utility has worked hard to make sure the charges are "fair and reasonable."

But attorneys for the consumers spent hours questioning Onsgard and another FPL witness, Terry Deason, about the validity of the charges. For instance, Nathan Skop, an attorney for Loxahatchee residents Daniel and Alexandria Larson, compared the charges to earlier FPL projections about cost savings from new metering --- projections that he said had not been met.

"We've heard there's a high level of confidence, but we've heard that before,'' said Skop, a former member of the Public Service Commission, as is Deason.

As FPL developed the charges, it estimated that 12,000 customers would choose not to use smart meters, though testimony Tuesday indicated the number is currently about 6,700.

But smart meters have drawn opposition, as some homeowners worry the technology could lead to invasions of their privacy and could cause health problems because of radiation emissions. One of the customers challenging FPL, Venice resident Marilynne Martin, raised both issues in a document filed earlier this year in the case.

"Ms. Martin refuses to consent to the installation of smart meters primarily due to her belief that there are negative long-term health effects to sleeping behind an active communication network and she does not consent to her detailed usage data being unnecessarily collected,'' the document said.