SEATTLE – Seattle City Light’s advanced meters will soon be coming to neighborhoods near you. Often referred to as Smart Meters, the wireless meters can keep track of customers’ electricity usage in real time and without the need for a reader to come to your home or business.
City Light said it will add accuracy and efficiency, but a small group in Seattle is fighting back against the meters, saying they are not safe or secure.
Jordan Van Voast put a sign up on the outside of his home near his meters that says "Do Not Install a Smart Meter." He said he knows it won’t hold legal weight, but it does make him feel better.
“This is actually a bedroom on the other side of this wall,” said Van Voast, pointing at the outside wall his meter is mounted on.
Van Voast’s meter is soon to be replaced by a wireless meter, which he said is not safe. “There are adverse biological effects from radio frequency radiation,” he said.
Van Voast said he also has concerns about the security of the meter as well.
“There’s a big difference between what they’ll upload and what the meter is capturing,” said Van Voast.
Dubbed Smart Meters or Advanced Meters, Seattle City Light will be one of more than 500 utility districts across the country in the past decade to make the switch. In King County, they’ll be second to Puget Sound Energy.
“We are convinced that this is a safe technology to put into the field for our customers,” said Scott Thomsen, spokesman for Seattle City Light. Thomsen said the benefits will be captured immediately, once the two-year rollout is complete. Wattage information will be uploaded six times a day, providing more accurate bills. Immediate power outage notification and the eventual ability for homeowners to monitor their own usage will help save time and money, he said.
“Currently if we show up and a gate is locked, a dog is in the yard or a meter reader is sick and we can’t make it to your home, we have to estimate your electricity usage in order to generate a bill,” said Thomsen. “Sometimes we’re a little high, sometimes we’re a little low and then we catch up the next time we get a read.”
Thomsen said the technology is safe. “Much like what’s in your cell phone, only it’s less powerful than what is in your cell phone and other common household devices like baby monitors, even cordless phones,” he said.
Although Van Voast said he has security concerns, Thomsen said the data collected and transmitted is benign.
“The data that’s being transmitted is really simple. You get a meter number and you get kilowatt hours of data consumption, that’s it,” he said. “There’s no customer data about addresses, names, credit card info, Social Security, no customer information is shared across this. It’s only a meter number and the energy consumption of your entire building, whether that’s your home or your business.”
“There’s really no way of fact-checking that information,” said Van Voast.
He said his group is educating Seattle City Light customers about their concerns through the website www.safemeters.org. He said he's hoping more customers will opt out after learning about the meters.
Seattle City Light reports less than 100 customers have opted out of the advanced meters, which comes at a cost. There is a $124.43 charge upfront, then customers will be charged an additional $15.87 on each billing cycle to pay for the meter reader coming to your home.