Eastern Iowa’s advanced meter infrastructure — commonly referred to as smart meters — is growing, much to the chagrin of some residents put off by the new meters.
Utility companies like Alliant Energy and Linn County Rural Electric Cooperative say the meters offer a more efficient and reliable service for customers, but some residents are opposed to the new devices and potential rate increases associated with keeping with their old meters.
Alliant Spokesman Justin Foss said the utility has completed its advanced meter infrastructure within Cedar Rapids and has begun moving west. All told, Alliant has deployed smart meters on about 335,000 of its roughly 500,000 meters.
“We have made great progress in getting more of these meters installed across the state. We finished the Cedar Rapids area and are moving west,” Foss said, adding that the plan is to have smart meters integrated into all of Alliant’s Iowa grid by the end of next year.
“There are tens of thousands of meters that are now sending information back to us electronically,” he said.
The meters send data back to the company, allowing it to better detect power outages so energy can be restored more quickly and provide more accurate information to customers in their energy bills.
More than a year ago Alliant Energy began the transition to an advanced metering infrastructure for the company’s approximately 750,000 customers in Iowa. The utility switched its roughly 470,000 Wisconsin customers to smart meters about a decade ago.
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However, the shift to smart meters hasn’t been universally welcomed by customers. Some have requested to keep their current meters rather than join Alliant’s smart infrastructure.
Analog or digital meters must be read once a month in-person, Foss said. The shift to smart meters provides cost savings by reducing maintenance expenses and creating efficiencies, he said.
With that in mind, Alliant has proposed allowing customers to opt out of having smart meters, but doing so would cost an extra $15 per month for each meter.
“If customers choose to not be a part of that program, they now cause extra costs to be borne. The fee reflects those costs,” he said.
Alliant’s tariff proposal is before the Iowa Utilities Board for debate. A ruling should come early next year.
Kathy Matara with Fairfield Safe Meters, a group of residents opposed to smart meters, said she doesn’t want a the new meter, which transmits data via radio frequency back to the utility company. Matara said the frequency comes with potential health risks, which have been reported on some websites and documentaries.
Matara said what frustrates her most is she feels the added fee of maintaining her old meter comes with another cost.
“It’s coming down to freedom of choice,” she said. “If I think something is dangerous, as a consumer ... I might choose not to expose myself and my family and my animals to that, but they’re saying I have to pay for it, and yet I don’t have any right to choose.”
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Mark Schuling, consumer advocate for the state of Iowa, said his office also is opposed to Alliant’s tariff proposal. Schuling said the utility company should have the means to maintain a smaller amount of digital or analog meters for those who choose not to have a smart meter.
“We have a significant number of customers of (Alliant Energy) that have health and safety concerns, what they want to do is keep their analog meters,” Schuling said, adding that doing so also should not come with a cost. “I don’t think a charge is appropriate at this time.”
Linn County REC, which serves 29,000 members in Eastern Iowa, in July began installing advanced metering infrastructure. The new meters will be installed for all customers by the end of 2019, Carrie Langridge, Linn County REC communications coordinator, said in an email.
Langridge said the new meters allow for remote meter reading, improved billing accuracy and the ability to better detect power outages.
Langridge said members who do not wish to have a new meter installed on their home or business can pay to have the meter relocated to a different location on their property. The cost of doing so will vary depending on the distance.
All told, Foss and Langridge said concerns or complaints from customers over the new meters have been minimal.
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