SEQUIM — Opponents showed up in force at a Clallam Public Utility District commissioners’ meeting, objecting to the five-year, $3.75 million smart meter program already approved by the board.
PUD officials are hoping that PUD informational meetings scheduled for 1:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Monday at the main office at 104 Hooker Road in Sequim will address ratepayers’ concerns over what the PUD calls its advanced metering infrastructure program.
“Bring as many people as you like,” PUD board President Will Purser urged the approximately 40 people who attended Monday’s meeting, suggesting the sessions could be moved from the meeting room if the space is too small.
The first of 22,000 smart meters were ordered last week for installation beginning in the Sequim area after commissioners unanimously approved the purchase at their Jan. 14 meeting.
Several ratepayers accused the commissioners of sneaking the program through without proper public notice.
Among complaints voiced by more than a dozen speakers during the public comment session were fears over the low-level electromagnetic waves generated by the meters.
“I think this is a freedom of health and choice issue,” said one woman. “I want a choice to not be exposed to EMF [electromagnetic field] radiation.”
They also objected to an annual $360 opt-out program.
Customers are billed a $30-a-month cost-of-service fee so their existing analog meters can continue being manually read by meter readers instead of having remotely-read smart meters installed between 2019-23.
One woman described the charge as “huge,” saying that her sister, who is disabled, will spend that much less on food.
“She already goes to the food bank twice a month,” she said.
PUD General Manager Doug Nass said after the meeting that the PUD might be able to lower the opt-out fee.
He said it covers paying a meter reader to physically record the data and other associated costs.
But commissioners indicated there is little chance of them reversing their Jan. 14 decision, which if they did might generate a penalty fee by breaking a contract with Swiss smart-meter manufacturer Landis and Gyr.
Purser suggested, too, that it would take more than dozens of opponents showing up at a commissioners’ meeting.
“I don’t see 30,000 people here,” he said.
One woman asked, “Why was there not more of a public process involved in the decision making?”
“We discussed this issue repeatedly,” Purser responded.
“You didn’t attend.
“You didn’t hear it.
“We covered it in our publication.
“There’s a lot of information out there.”
PUD meetings are held on the second and fourth Monday every month at 1:30 p.m. at the Carlsborg headquarters.
PUD officials said the issue was discussed a few years ago, when ratepayers including Eloise Kailin of Protect the Peninsula’s Future objected to smart meters.
At the Nov. 19 meeting, commissioners Anderson, Purser, and then-Commissioner Ted Simpson approved a resolution “adopting the district’s meter strategy” that moved the smart-meter program forward without mentioning the new devices, according to the pre-agenda.
There is no public or board discussion of the policy reflected in the minutes of the Nov. 19 meeting.
“The American Cancer Society basically has said smart meters are acceptable,” Nass said.
The organization has compared the radio frequency waves given off by smart meters to a cellphone or residential Wi-Fi router (tinyurl.com/PDN-SmartMeters).
The American Cancer Society also has said there are too many sources of electromagnetic radio waves in the home to prove or disprove a link to cancer.
“Fifty to 60 percent of the U.S. has these meters,” Nass said.
“If you go on the internet you can find hundreds of things against it.
“You’ll also find hundred of things for it.
“Let’s try to be reasonable and talk back and forth in a professional manner, and hopefully we can answer your questions,” he said, pointing to the meetings set for Monday.
PUD officials have said the meters will reduce PUD net operating costs by $300,000 annually, replace meters that become inaccurate as they age, and provide faster response to outages.
They also will give customers immediate access to their ongoing electric usage through data sent to the PUD via radio frequency waves.
Inga Able helped start the Facebook page Movement Against Smart Meters for Clallam County on Jan. 21.
She said a Jan. 20 Peninsula Daily News story about the PUD board’s Jan. 14 meeting prompted a flood of negative responses and 260 signatures on a petition against the program.
People who signed the petition “don’t want any part of smart meters or [the] opt out,” she told the commissioners.
“People felt completely overwhelmed with this decision.”
She said in an interview that most people against the smart-meter program were concerned about the devices’ impact on their health.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].