PSEG Long Island plans an aggressive rollout of "smart" meters across the service territory starting next year, but some customers are already demanding the ability to opt out.
More than 178,000 of LIPA's 1.1 million customers -- around 60,000 a year -- will get the "advanced" electric meters by 2019 under a plan disclosed by PSEG this week, at a cost of $7 million a year. The vast majority will be residential customers.
At a technical conference for its three-year, 4-percent annual rate hike request on Tuesday, PSEG said the plan includes a systemwide communication backbone that will be in place by the year's end. Customers seeking new service, changing their service or retiring an old meter will get a smart meter.
Advanced metering systems provide a two-way, wireless link between the high-tech customer meters and the utility communication network. They allow more detailed, remote metering of electric use, quick location of line outages and the ability to remotely shut off, turn on and diagnose service. Estimated bills would be greatly reduced, and customers would be able to track usage more closely, including via the Web.
But opponents have concerns about privacy invasion, health impacts and higher costs.
Just this week, Grassroots Environmental Education, a Port Washington watchdog group, launched a website, opt-outlongisland.com, urging customers to say, "No thanks to smart meters."
"The meters are of great concern because they are emitting pulsed radiation," said Patti Wood, executive director of the grassroots group, citing studies that she said indicated neurological impact on developing fetuses and people with implanted medical devices. PSEG's system will use radio frequency and commercial cellular technology.
Privacy concerns center on the utility having access to more private customer information than ever, including usage habits and whether a consumer is home.
PSEG in a statement cited studies showing that "when installed and properly maintained," wireless smart meters emit smaller levels of radio frequency exposure than cellphones and microwave ovens.
At a public hearing in Mineola Wednesday, Wood and another ratepayer, Daniel Brown of Baldwin, sought the ability to opt out of smart meters.
"People certainly should have the right to choose," Wood said. "That's why I think they [PSEG] should have been out front about this."
PSEG said it would allow customers to opt out of the system and get a traditional meter. Also, PSEG said, the move "will not impact our employees."
Tuesday's technical briefing was PSEG's first public airing of the large-scale smart meter plan. In October it had disclosed a $25 million plan to roll out the meters to 50,000 mostly commercial customers through 2018.
"PSEG needs to do a better job informing the public," said Chuck Idol, a Port Washington ratepayer and an outspoken critic of the utility's large, chemically treated utility poles. He said he's not necessarily opposed to smart meters, but added, "If they did a better job of communicating, they might get better acceptance."
LIPA in 2012 began a pilot program of around 7,700 meters in Farmingdale and Bethpage. PSEG said its wider rollout will "enhance customer service, improve operational efficiency and provide a platform" for the "energy vision of the future" without full-scale deployment.