Residents from Bartlett to Collierville took to their respective town halls last week to voice opposition over the county’s impending shift from analogue utility meters to the oft-misunderstood smart meters.
Now, Memphis Light, Gas and Water officials are working to shed some light on the ambitious $215-million project.
With a 1,200-unit pilot program already in the works, Memphis’ only energy provider plans to install smart meters in 60,000 homes scattered throughout 15 Shelby County zip codes beginning in September. The county-wide implementation of around 1 million units is estimated to take another seven years.
While some residents are troubled over safety and health issues stemming from the electrical meters, most opponents cite rate increases and irregularities as their primary concerns.
“I think there is concern with the transparency of how the billing will be done,” said Anne Grosvenor, who addressed the Bartlett Board of Mayor and Aldermen last week.
Grosvenor is not alone.
Collierville’s Yvonne Burton said the new meters would cost users more in the long run.
“Some communities that have implemented these meters have seen a surcharge in their bills,” she said. “And $215 million is a lot of investment with nothing but promises of a rainbow pot of gold in return.”
While Burton worries that smart device users will ultimately pay for the installation, repair and battery costs associated with the plastic meters, she said that the new adjusted rate system is where residents will see striking increases in their bills.
This year, MLGW will begin offering time-of-use rates during peak hours of energy usage. The rates require customers to pay a higher amount during peak hours (between noon and 8 p.m. in the summer months) and lower rates during off-peak hours.
“During the summer months,” said Grosvenor, “the rate is 80 percent higher during peak hours than it is currently without the time-of-use rates. The rate jumps to 11.6 cents during peak hours and then goes down to 5 cents during off-peak hours. Currently we pay 6.5 cents for all hours.”
While Memphis Light, Gas and Water President and Chief Executive Officer Jerry Collins said the new rate system is meant to reward energy users for doing more during non-peak hours, he also said that signing up for the time-of-use rates is “optional.”
“The people against smart meters are the vocal minority,” he said. “I spoke with members of several homeowners associations yesterday. They said these meters can’t get here fast enough.”
He said that customers would not see an increase in their bills for the installation of the meters. Collins said the costs involved with implementing the new system will be made up by not replacing 170 vacated meter reader positions over the next seven years.
When asked if users will be responsible for paying for the replacement of batteries to the smart gas and water meters, Collins said the batteries have a life expectancy of 20 years, “and no, our customers will not be charged.”
“These meters will improve the response time during outages and decrease disconnection fees,” he said. “There will be no more estimates either.”
Smart meter users will also be able to view their account information online every day to track their energy usage habits.
Collins said energy customers will also have the opportunity to “opt-out” of the smart meters should they choose to do so.