INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — The Board of County Commissioners Tuesday voted 4-0 to pass a resolution asking Florida Power and Light and the Florida Public Service Commission to give FPL customers the right to permanently opt out of having a smart meter installed on their home.
The vote came after two hours of impassioned of public comment in which a dozen or more residents of Indian River County and several neighboring counties expressed their opposition to smart meters that eliminate need for onsite meter reading by transmitting usage information to the electric utility.
FPL says the meters are safe and will reduce energy costs and usage but speakers said the devices raise consumer energy costs, invade personal privacy and emit frequent electromagnetic pulses that damage health.
The climax of the health argument came when a disabled St. Lucie County woman was assisted to the microphone by a friend. She said her health was severely damaged by electromagnetic radiation when a smart meter was installed on a neighbor’s house.
“I am living in a neurological nightmare,” the woman said, struggling to form her words. “My memory is impaired, my motor function is severely compromised and I have severe stabbing migraines.”
The woman said she previously had a health condition that caused seizures but had not had a seizure in 14 years until the neighbor’s meter was installed, which caused her seizures to resume.
Other speakers said smart meters invade privacy by recording when and how much energy is used in ways that allow FPL and anyone with access to its database to know what devices in a home are being used, whether a home alarm is armed and whether anyone is present in a house.
“They are surveillance devices,” one speaker said.
“It is creeping totalitarianism,” said another.
FPL acknowledged the smart meters contain a chip that could be activated to record power usage of individual appliances, and that some appliances are now manufactured with a compatible chip that will communicate with the meter, but said the meter chip will not be turned on immediately and would be optional when activated on the grid.
Commissioner Bob Solari said he is skeptical of that claim.
“My biggest concern with the smart meters is privacy. If there is a chip, I guarantee you it will be turned on at some point,” the commissioner said.
Speakers said smart meters have caused electric bills to skyrocket in other locales, when power companies use them to monitor peak hours of energy consumption and charge more for power when demand is highest.
Opponents also cited the high cost of changing out all the meters in the county and the country and asked how much tax money is used to subsidize the changeover and who is profiting from having a captive market for tens of millions of meters.
Commission Chairman Gary Wheeler asked County Attorney Alan Polackwich to clarify the Commission’s authority in the matter.
“You have no legal authority to mandate anything to FPL,” Polackwich said. “The Public Service Commission has jurisdiction and it is in favor of installing the meters. All you can do as a board is express the way you feel about the matter.”
Wheeler and other commissioners said they were not expert enough on the issue to know if health concerns were justified but agreed with smart meter opponents there are legitimate privacy concerns.
They also said since FPL is a monopoly in the area of Indian River County it serves, and people have no other options for buying electricity, smart meters should not be forced on them by the utility.
Wheeler and Commissioner Peter O’Bryan also asked that FPL do a better job informing customers of the possible dangers of smart meters as well as their supposed benefits.
Joe Flescher was the only commissioner who spoke in favor of the meters.
“I had mine installed today and I wish I could have had it earlier,” he said. “I was well informed and treated with courtesy.”
He said the meters are part of the general technological advance of society and should be embraced, eliciting “boos” and shouts form some 40 anti-smart meter audience members.
Commissioner Wheeler had to caution the audience several times about clapping for anti-meter speakers and interrupting those in favor of the devices.
“It is not appropriate in a business meeting," he said. "You are being rude."
Several FPL representatives sitting in the front row remained silent throughout the morning and only spoke when Commissioner Flescher prompted FPL External Affairs Manager Amy Brunjes to address the concerns.
Brunjes discussed the company’s policies and ask the commission not to pass the proposed resolution.
The discussion ended with a 4-0 vote in favor of the resolution requesting that residents have the ability to opt-out of having the meters installed. Though Commissioner Wesley Davis had been in attendance for most of the discussion, he had to excuse himself to attend another function prior to the vote.