FPL to weigh decision on extended Smartmeter opt-outs, company rep says

The Sarasota County commissioners decided June 5 not to hold a future public discussion on Florida Power & Light Co.'s Smartmeter program. Photo by Norman Schimmel

Only about one-tenth of 1% of Florida Power & Light Co. customers so far have expressed concerns about having Smartmeters installed at their homes, an FPL spokeswoman told The Sarasota News Leader on June 11.

After company representatives have explained the features of the devices, Elaine Hinsdale said, 50% of those customers have allowed FPL to proceed with the installation.

After all the 4.5 million Smartmeters have been installed in the utility company’s 35-county service area — including Sarasota County — Hinsdale said company officials would review the number of customers on the opt-out list “and determine how best we can address their concerns.”

As of June 11, Hinsdale said, FPL had installed 3.4 million of the devices. The work began in the Miami area and has been moving up both the state’s coasts, she added.

Installation in Sarasota County is scheduled for the last quarter of this year, Hinsdale said.

Company officials say the meters will provide better service for customers, giving them the ability to see how they use power in their homes on an hour-by-hour basis. The Smartmeters also have the ability to report power outages immediately to company officials, so residents no longer have to make those calls.

However, a number of Florida residents — including some in Sarasota County — have expressed concerns about their health, because the devices operate on a radio frequency, and about whether the Smartmeters would enable FPL to collect private information.

National research has been cited on both sides of the health argument. However, Hinsdale pointed out that the Florida Public Service Commission gave the company permission about two years ago to install the devices.

Nonetheless, Hinsdale said, the PSC has scheduled a Smartmeter workshop on Sept. 20 in Tallahassee. The session will begin at 9:30 a.m.

The matter of Sarasota County residents’ concerns about the devices arose during the county commissioners’ comments on June 5, though the board ultimately chose to take no action.

In light of those concerns, Commissioner Jon Thaxton proposed the board send a resolution to FPL in support of residents’ ability to opt out of having the meters installed at their homes.

The resolution “just acknowledges [the] concerns” about the devices, he said.

Commissioner Carolyn Mason seconded Thaxton’s motion.

Commissioner Nora Patterson referenced a county staff analysis about the Smartmeter program, saying, “It’s not clear what would happen after [one] year if [customers and the company] didn’t see eye-to-eye” on the opt-out provision.

Patterson then said she would like to have FPL representatives discuss the issue with the commission.

“We can discuss it,” Thaxton said, adding that the commission did not have much flexibility in the matter.

Commissioner Joe Barbetta said he felt the board needed to hear from FPL before taking any action.

Mason said she seconded Thaxton’s motion because she wanted to hear discussion on the opt-out issue.

“Ultimately, we don’t have a say in this,” Chairwoman Christine Robinson said. “Ultimately, the state would have control over this.”

Still, Robinson said, she was in accord with the idea of sending a letter or resolution to FPL, saying the board supported the company’s giving people options. Other counties were taking similar action, she said.

“I think a couple of other communities asked for an opt-in instead of an opt-out,” Patterson said.

“At any rate,” Patterson continued, “I think that it might be a good idea to let the people who are concerned hear a discussion item … before we do anything.”

When Robinson called for a vote on Thaxton’s motion, it failed 2-3, with Barbetta, Mason and Patterson voting against it.

Then Patterson made a motion to invite FPL and county staff to present “what they view as the facts. Then we can talk about it.”

“I don’t think that’s a good use of the time,” Thaxton said. “No discussion item that we have is going to change anybody’s mind one bit. … We’re going to end up doing nothing or a minimal letter or resolution.”

“I agree with you,” Robinson told him.

“What the discussion would do, I think,” Mason said, “is to help people understand there is an opt-out … and how to go about it.”

“Well, that sounds like a reasonable thing [about which] to have a wide-open discussion,” Patterson said.

“That’s the way I feel,” Barbetta said.

“I’m completely with Commissioner Thaxton on this one,” Robinson said. “We’re not going to convince anybody” about whether the Smartmeters are safe or a potential cause for concern, she added.

Barbetta agreed that that issue was a matter for discussion between the PSC and FPL. “We have no power,” he added.

Then Patterson said she would be happy to withdraw her motion.

Still, she said, “I don’t think it’s true that people hearing facts won’t change their minds.”

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