Jefferson County PUD puts smart meters on hold

CHIMACUM — The Jefferson County Public Utility District’s much-debated meter replacement program has been stopped for the time being.

Commissioners agreed Monday that the Smart Meter Program could wait.

Smart meters are digital meters that measure and record electricity usage data hourly, and more frequently, and allow for remote two-way communications between utilities and the meters.

Over 76 million smart meters are installed in the U.S. today, and are in neighboring counties including Grays Harbor, San Juan, Mason and Thurston. Currently, Seattle City Light and Puget Sound Energy (PSE) are transitioning to all smart meters as well.

The meters broadcast usage using serial numbers via radio frequency. But, instead of being read by a meter reader, the data is sent via the cloud to the utility.

Jefferson County Public Utility District (PUD) entered into a purchase agreement with Itron to supply 19,000 open wave Riva AMI Meters. But based on citizen concerns and feedback about the product, contract finalization was put on hold at the end of October for additional review.

Smart meters have been discussed by PUD officials since 2013. In 2016, the utility’s citizens advisory board recommended that the commissioners replace current meters with the new advanced meters.

In 2017, the project went out to bid, and in June, Itron was selected from the list of vendors.

On Oct. 30, the PUD hosted a special public meeting to discuss the meter replacement program.

Assistant General Manager Kevin Streett on Tuesday recommended putting the program on hold, saying that it “wasn’t in PUD’s best interest to move forward right now.”

Jeff Randall, board president and District 1 commissioner, said, “We don’t need to do it right now. We do need to be focused on getting a general manager and giving that manager the best chance of success as possible. We also need a CFO. The next general manager will have plenty of issues to deal with without also dealing with the meters.”

PUD commissioners have offered the general manager position to former Port Angeles and current City of Ellensburg utility manager Larry Dunbar. According to Randall, initial discussions have gone well and Dunbar has requested an April 23 start date if contract negotiations are successful.

District 2 Commissioner Ken Collins agreed with Streett’s recommendation and said that stopping the meter project “makes very good sense to me.”

District 3 Commissioner Wayne King was not in attendance due to illness.

Annette Huenke, one of the founders of Smart Meters Objectors Group (SMOG), has been following this issue since September 2017. She was encouraged by the action taken by the commissioners.

“We’re pleased with this action and are looking forward to meeting with the new general manager,” Huenke said. “We’re excited about the sincerity about transparency, and we want the new manager to explore all options.”

“Smart meter technology and its implementation are fraught with problems, from astounding cost overruns to ‘buggy’ meters that don’t perform as promised,” she said.

“Once the roll-out occurs, it’s the ratepayers — not the utility — that are on the hook for misguided budgeting, unforeseen expenses and system failures.”

Local opposition to smart meters grew as the public learned more about other communities’ experiences.

“We have already gathered over 800 signatures from PUD customers asking for an analog meter choice. We will continue gathering signatures for that petition,” she said.

Because the current meters will continue in service, Landis & Gyr, with whom the PUD has a current contract, will continue to read the meters and transmit the data to PUD.

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].

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