New Mexico – Crowds pack PRC smart meter hearings

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PNM staffers have asserted that the new meters are completely safe and will end up saving their consumers money, but based on the comments at the Thursday sessions, members of the public feel differently.

Additionally, she said, “no one has proved that these smart meters are safe. The burden of proof shouldn’t be on us, the ratepayer.”

Crowds pack PRC smart meter hearings

Written by on June 24, 2016

More that 100 people showed up to two separate hearings Thursday afternoon to voice their opinions to District 5 Public Regulation Commissioner Sandy Jones about the Public Service Company of New Mexico’s proposal to install “smart meters” statewide — a hot topic in Silver City since the town installed their own “smart meters” on water services earlier this year.

Although the “smart meters” the town installed were part of a long-term plan developed and voted on a couple of years ago, the PRC is hearing PNM’s case as to why the company wants to install these meters on utility service installations.

The start of the first session, scheduled for 2 p.m., was delayed nearly 40 minutes by a late court reporter, but attendees were standing after seats filled in the completely packed Commissioners Meeting Room of the Grant County Administration Center. The first session ended only 45 minutes before the 5 p.m. session began, where about half as many wanted to speak.

PNM staffers have asserted that the new meters are completely safe and will end up saving their consumers money, but based on the comments at the Thursday sessions, members of the public feel differently.

Janet Wallet-Ortiz said that she hoped Jones and the PRC would vote down the proposed PNM plan to install Advanced Metering Infrastructure meters for a couple of reasons.

“AMI meters have a lifespan that is considerably shorter than analog meters. The [existing analog meter] at my house is over 30 years old,” she said. “The more expensive the plan, the more money PNM makes.”

Speaking in the hearing, Louise Hummingbird said that PNM is also going to charge those who “opt out” of the plan an additional $47 a month.

“Our regular bills already have included in them the money to pay to have the meters read, but PNM wants to charge us an extra $47 a month to have the meters read if we don’t opt for a smart meter,” she said.

Additionally, she said, “no one has proved that these smart meters are safe. The burden of proof shouldn’t be on us, the ratepayer.”

John Stein, joining in on the health effects, said that although no one has proved the meters are unsafe, there is no proof of their safety, either.

“PNM should be providing full disclosure as to the safety of their product,” he said.

Another concern raised during the meetings was reports that some of these meters have caused house fires, leaving people homeless — and that they could be potential cyber-security risks, or give criminals information about residents, such as when electronic use was highest and lowest to case a house and burgle it.

On the other side of the argument, Western New Mexico Communications President Dave Thomas said he is completely in favor of the meters, because they will provide PNM with more accurate billing information.

“By reducing the number of vehicles you have, you reduce the fuel consumption and reduce the pollutants,” he said. “This isn’t just a technological fad — the analog meters I don’t believe are being manufactured anymore, so eventually we’re going to have to go to a digital AMI type of technology. I am not here to debate the health issues or the price issues because I really don’t understand them, but I do believe it will improve billing accuracy, the ability for customers to pick their own payment date and immediate service connection or disconnection.”

Thomas focused on the benefits of immediately being able to turn connections on and off, particularly for area real estate agents. “If somebody wants to look at a house, they can have the power turned on immediately,” he said. “It will improve the productivity of other businesses that I believe rely on quick and consistent connectivity.”

Although some heckled Thomas while he was speaking, Jones asked the crowd to be respectful of others’ opinions during the meeting, adding that the community’s civility is why he likes holding public hearings in Silver City.

“This is such a great community with the respect you folks give each other here,” Jones said.

—STEWART McCLINTIC

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