TENNESSEE-Smart meters could be hacked, start fires if they malfunction

Council OKs $240M to install MLGW smart meters

December 1, 2015 – City Council Member Berlin Boyd (right) shows photos from a handout provided by Smart Meter opponents to fellow council member Janice Fullilove during Memphis City Council meeting at City Hall on Tuesday. (Mike Brown/The Commercial Appeal)

By Ryan Poe of The Commercial Appeal

December 1, 2015 – An opponent to Smart Meters who declined to provide her name makes her case to the Memphis City Council with a box full of research on why they should not approve a $240 million purchase of the meters at City Hall on Tuesday. (Mike Brown/The Commercial Appeal)

The Memphis City Council voted Tuesday to award a $240 million contract to Elster Solutions to supply and install about 1 million smart meters over the next five years for the Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division.

The council voted 8-3 for the contract, which MLGW CEO Jerry Collins said would save the utility more than $40 million per year in operating and maintenance costs and require the reassignment of 85 meter readers.

Voting for the contract were council members Bill Boyd, Berlin Boyd, Alan Crone, Edmund Ford Jr., Reid Hedgepeth, Bill Morrison, Jim Strickland and Myron Lowery. Joe Brown, Janis Fullilove and Wanda Halbert voted against. Harold Collins abstained and Kemp Conrad recused himself.

The vote clears the way for MLGW to begin installing 200,000 meters a year starting in January or February, Collins said.

Raleigh, N.C.-based Elster has already installed 60,000 electric, gas and water smart meters as part of the $10.2 million first phase of the project.

Customers who don’t want the smart meters can opt out, Collins said. In the first phase, about 3.6 percent of customers objected to the new meters.

In the first phase, Collins said, the smart meters helped reduce customers’ average monthly bills 2 to 4 percent.

Collins said the change wouldn’t mean any layoffs, but would let MLGW eliminate about 200 vacant positions.

A small but vocal group showed up Tuesday to oppose the smart meters, which they said would increase bills, could be hacked, and could start fires if they malfunction.

But Harbor Town resident Mike Moffatt said he’s had his smart meter for about a year, and the ability to track his utility use has helped him reduce his monthly bills by more than 10 percent.

“I’m happy with my smart meter,” he said. “I like it.”

Council member Harold Collins said council members have listened to citizens opposed to the new meters and understand their concerns.

“We hear you, but we cannot be afraid of tomorrow,” he said.

Taking another tack, Bill Hawkins — a smart meter opponent and assistant business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1288, representing 1,800 MLGW employees — said MLGW could save $25 million by installing the smart meters using MLGW employees.

Jerry Collins said MLGW’s workforce can only handle 50 percent of the work, which it has already committed to doing.

Council member Berlin Boyd questioned why more of the contract — a little more than $1.1 million — isn’t going to local contractors. Shelby County Packaging & Logistics will receive a $250,000 subcontract and F&F Enterprises Electric will receive $860,000.

Council member Janis Fullilove said MLGW has already put in place the infrastructure for the smart meters, even without final council approval.

“They have the answer before the question,” she said.

Like other members, Fullilove criticized MLGW and Elster for only giving a “miniscule” portion of the contract to local minority contractors.

“And we’re supposed to be happy,” she said.



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