Posted: 11:10 a.m. Monday, June 8, 2015
By Susan Salisbury – Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Florida Power & Light Co. customer Lisa Lacoparra of Port St. Lucie lives in fear that an FPL worker is going to show up at her house and replace her analog meter with a digital meter.
Lacoparra is one of about 6,000 FPL customers — out of a 4.8 million customer base — who have opted out of the Juno Beach-based company’s smart meter program. The opt-outs are being charged a one-time fee of $89 plus $13 a month to keep their “non-standard meters.”
Now FPL is removing hundreds of the analogs — electromechanical meters with spinning dials — for accuracy testing. In fact, in a 2014 filing with the Florida Public Service Commission FPL stated that over the next five years, it planned to test or replace 83 percent, or 5,495 of the remaining non-standard meters
The customer is given a non-communicating digital meter, which unlike a smart meter, cannot be read remotely. The analog meter is never returned.
A group of several dozen anti-smart meter customers led by Marilynne Martin of Venice feels that FPL is using the state-mandated testing as a “backdoor way” of taking their analog meters.
While FPL says that all of its meters of any type are safe, some customers don’t want a smart meter due to privacy concerns about data transmission. Others say the smart meters’ radio-frequency emissions, similar to those from a cell phone, result in symptoms such as headaches.
In addition, changing out the meter can disturb the customer-owned meter box and related wiring. During FPL’s smart meter rollout, roughly 180,000 meter enclosures were repaired or replaced.
Lacoparra says that in 2012, one week after FPL installed smart meters on her neighbors’ houses, she had a seizure. Those meters have been removed. But she says that even a digital meter that is not wirelessly communicating usage to FPL will make her ill, due to electromagnetic fields they emit.
“I can’t have a digital due to EMFs and dirty electricity,” Lacoparra said. “I have auto-immune disease. My doctor says I cannot be exposed. FPL knows about my case. They have a list of whose meters are going to be tested. It is updated every day. Every day I live in fear.”
FPL spokesman Bryan Garner said the utility is not deliberately targeting analog meters. “We are testing the meters, which is required by the PSC,” he said. “It is a continuous random testing of meters, including analog and smart meters.”
FPL tests 5,000 meters a year, but because of the way the testing is set up, a higher percentage of analog meters is being tested. The utility’s meter population includes 79 different models. But 59 of those models are analogs, Garner said.
A document FPL filed with the PSC states, for example, that if there are only 65 of a specific type of meter in service, they will all be tested. If there are 550,000 or more of a specific model, just 98 of those will be tested.
“If folks feel they are being singled out, it is probably because there is a higher percentage of analog meters being sampled to get a statistically significant sample of each of those 59 types. It adds up to a higher percentage of meters,” Garner said.
Garner said FPL has a few hundred analog meters available, and will make every effort to accommodate customers who request an analog. The analogs have been out of production in the U.S. for more than five years and refurbished or foreign-made meters do not meet its standards.
However, customers such as Charles Henry of Port Orange say they were not contacted before their analog meters were removed within the last few weeks and replaced with a digital.
“I got an email the other day from Marilynne Martin, and she said there have been reports that people have had their analogs ripped off. I went out back and sure enough, they replaced my meter,” Henry said. “I had a notice taped to it saying not to remove it.”
Martin said that some customers padlock their meter enclosures. In those instances, FPL workers have come to their doors saying the PSC is making them change the meter under the accuracy testing rules.
Jeri Friedman of Port St. Lucie keeps the box holding her analog meter padlocked, and FPL workers have come to her property twice recently in attempts to take it, Friedman said.
During PSC hearings in 2014, FPL stated that analog meters were available to customers who wanted a non-communicating meter.
Major utilities such as PG&E in California, Arizona Public Service Co. and NV Energy in Nevada are required to provide analogs to those who don’t want a smart meter.
“They seem to be able to supply them,” Martin said. “FPL could too. The constant changing of these meters is putting the customer-owned meter boxes at risk for damage.”