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New power meters being installed in the Klamath Basin

Could new "smart meters" for reading power usage pose threats in terms of harmful radiation, electronic security or rises in power bills?

These were among many concerns several Klamath Falls residents brought before city council Monday night, which talked on the possible pros and cons of new smart meter technology arriving in the area.

Pacific Power officials announced earlier Monday that as of Tuesday, they plan to install these new smart meters across 40,000 homes in South Central Oregon in the next six weeks. This includes homes in Klamath Falls, Lakeview, Chiloquin, Bly, Beatty, Bonanza and other areas of the Klamath basin.

The meters will more closely monitor electrical usage and allow the utility to direct power where it is needed, building efficiency into the electrical grid.

Those who spoke to city council said they have either opted out or plan to opt out in the coming months, adding that they would at least like a temporary moratorium placed on the meter installations.

Officials from Pacific Power spoke on the benefits of the meters, saying that residents may be "misinformed in certain areas." The company said the meters would help them offer new online access services for customers, cut their energy costs and reduce the need for additional power facilities since they'll have more accurate readings.

Top concerns

Nearly half a dozen spoke of their concerns with the smart meters going in, saying that they had spent several hours researching the possible health effects and privacy concerns associated with the new tech.

Dawnn Brown, who attended with her husband and former Klamath County Commissioner Bill Brown, was the first to bring up the possibility of a moratorium. Dawnn Brown said that they had opted out themselves, which cost an extra $137, but that some form of installation had still taken place at their home.

"We know you don't have the authority over this, but it's such an important issue that everyone needs to know what's going on," Dawnn Brown told city council Monday.

Others who shared their own stories added that they felt the new smart meters were either intrusive, potentially hazardous to their health or could raise their power prices.

Amanda Levey, an environmental sciences student at Oregon Institute of Technology, said that the new meters posed a huge energy poverty concern, adding that she read studies in which 40 percent of those surveyed with smart meters reported spikes in their power bills.

As a college student herself, Levey said she was concerned with costs on all fronts at a time when her and her peers are increasingly paying more for tuition, fees and other expenses.

In her eyes, the opt out does not help: Those who choose to keep old meters would also have to pay an extra $36 a month toward offset labor costs for manual reads.

"You have the choice of your energy bill increased or you have the choice of opting out and paying that extra meter read," Levey said.

Pacific Power, council responds

Todd Andres, regional community liaison for Pacific Power, said he would make himself available to speak more with those who had worries about the smart meter tech.

"If a group out there wants to meet with us, we will address their concerns," Andres said following Monday's meeting.

In terms of security, Andres said that data on the meters was encrypted and could not be used or hacked for the benefit of anyone looking to exploit the information. He also said that consumers could have just as much if not more concern with data collected from Internet, cell phones, cable or satellite providers.

Radiation would also not pose as much of a concern, as the devices emit tiny amounts of radio and broadcasts radiofrequency (RF) waves outward as opposed to inward toward homes or businesses.


Health threat believed minimal

An article published by the American Cancer Society also addresses smart meter technology, saying that there's no evidence to show that RF waves were strong enough to pose a threat. The article does, however, mention concerns in regards to cancer survivors who are exposed to RF waves.

The article also claims that it is not clear if lowering exposure to RF radiation has health benefits.

Most city staff and councilors at Monday's meeting did not respond or question the smart meter decisions, some of them citing concerns that they had not yet had enough time to respond to materials that the public gave them.

Jobs, cost increase concerns

Councilor Bill Adams asked several questions on the reasons behind the cost increases for those who did choose to opt out.

"I know it doesn't cost you that much now, because you're reading everybody's meter," Adams said. "It sounds like you're going to save a bunch of money a month by not having to read meters."

Andres said that they were actually late adopters of the technology, adding that they were looking for ways to save on costs and make sure that installations on homes interested in the technology would be free. Prices for the re-installation of old meters and monthly readings were factored in based on estimated labor costs.

Adams was also concerned about the potential impact it might have on jobs. Andres did admit that 100 jobs would be lost across the state, but added that those who signed on after Pacific Power started their smart meter projects were aware of what they were being hired into.

As for a moratorium, city staff said that they would unable to act, as state officials would be in charge of any larger decision that did not involve right of way access for utilities.

"However sympathetic the council may be toward the issue, it's ultimately a matter for the Public Utility Commission to address," said Rick Whitlock, interim legal counsel for the city.


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              Page Updated: Saturday May 12, 2018 01:32 PM  Pacific

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