EWEB smart meter plan not without critics

EUGENE, Ore. - The local electric utility in Eugene wants to install "smart meters," devices that will cut labor costs by reporting energy consumption wirelessly to the utility without a meter reader out on the ground.

But critics call the meters, which realy on radio waves, a risk they don't want to take.

The Eugene Water and Electric Board expects to save "somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 to $25 million dollars over 20 years," said Joe Harwood with EWEB.

Kathy Ging with Families for Safe Meters, which opposes smart meters, questions those figures.

"The idea that we're going to save $1.5 to $2 million dollars a year from uh, uh letting go 15 meter readers - what they haven't told the board really, specifically, is the fact that the IT budget is going way up," she said. "The new digital meters are plastic, and there's a lot of controversy if they are going to be replaced every 7-15 years, or some people think every three to five years - that's a huge discrepancy."

"It's a substantial investment, don't get me wrong," Harwood with EWEB said. "However, we're going to recoup those costs. We don't anticipate having any impact on rates."

Smart meters eliminate the need for meter readers by sending a wireless message back to EWEB to log your energy consumption.

"It's all about efficiency," Harwood said. "We believe we can save easily about $1.3 million dollars a year just in labor and fuel costs."

Harwood said the meters will also allow the utility to pinpoint outages.

Proponents and opponents disagree about whether the meters pose a health risk. EWEB said the devices emit fewer radio waves than your cell phone. Opponents say the devices will expose people to radiation in their homes.

So far, EWEB has taken a "go slow" approach, rolling out tests on the meters. A final decision isn't expected until 2017. One proposal calls for homeowners to be able to opt out of the program in exchange for paying a fee to offset the cost of dispatching a meter reader to the home.

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