During the next four months, nearly 158,000 Florida Power & Light Co. customers on the Treasure Coast will start receiving new electric meters on their homes and businesses that FPL officials say will end monthly visits by meter readers, reduce power outages and let customers check their electric use online.
Utilities across Florida and the U.S. are changing to this new "smart meter" technology, a key part of a government-subsidized effort aimed at building a more energy-efficient electric grid. It can transmit your home's energy use in real time. Proponents say smart meters also can help prevent some power outages even before they occur by signaling problems and remotely rerouting electrical loads.
But some people on the Treasure Coast and elsewhere say smart meters are a dumb and dangerous idea that will also cost jobs.
Their worries, deemed unfounded by FPL officials, include health concerns about constant electromagnetic transmissions from meters, guarding privacy about electric use in the home, eliminating meter reading jobs and reports the meters can cause fires.
"To this day, we haven't had any fires caused by smart meters," said Bryan Olnick, FPL's vice president for customer service, smart grid solutions and meter operations. He said there have been a few isolated instances when meters have "overheated," but they were caused by bad wiring, not the devices themselves.
"The box or meter case that the meter goes into, these are situations that can have problems whether it's a smart meter or not," Olnick said.
Carol Medeiros, an FPL customer and smart meter opponent in Stuart, isn't buying that explanation.
"I think it's just a regular mantra — they're going to blame everything on the customer," said Medeiros, who was among the first customers on the Treasure Coast to have a new smart meter installed on her home.
One-quarter of FPL's $800 million upgrade to its electric grid is being paid with a federal Department of Energy grant. Customers' rates won't change, FPL spokeswoman Marie Bertot said.
Smart meters transmit radio signals — as evidenced by the Federal Communications Commission identification number on each meter. They also receive radio signals from the power company that can be used to turn electricity on or off.
Installation of the new meters began in late October for FPL's 89,646 Martin County customers. The utility's 51,391 Indian River County customers are scheduled to get new meters beginning in February, and St. Lucie County's 116,800 FPL customers beginning in March.
"Long term, FPL's investment in smart grid will help us achieve greater operational efficiency," Bertot said. "By operating more efficiently, we're keeping our customers' bills among the lowest in the state."
Miami-Dade and Broward counties were the first in Florida to receive smart meters. Additionally, Gulf Power Co. in the Panhandle and Progress Energy in Central Florida plan to install the meters.
Medeiros had her home's smart meter turned off — at least temporarily — after saying she experienced headaches when the new meter began broadcasting information on her home's electrical use.
"Were (the headaches) stress from having the meter on the house? Or was it because the meter was right outside my bedroom?" Medeiros said. "What I know is that I don't have (the headaches) now."
Officials at FPL send postcards to households telling customers when smart meters are about to be installed. Jeffrey Pedersen of Stuart got one and sent a "notice of no consent to trespass and surveillance" to FPL and its agents.
His letter said wireless data broadcast from a smart meter would invade his privacy by transmitting information about his daily habits that would be stored in permanent databases.
"Those with access to the smart meter databases can review a permanent history of household activities, to gain a highly invasive and detailed view of the lives of the occupants," wrote Pedersen, who sells wireless networks and information technology.
"Those databases may be shared with, or fall into the hands of, criminals, blackmailers, corrupt law enforcement, private hackers of wireless transmissions, power company employees and other unidentified parties," he added, "who may act against the interest of the occupants under metered surveillance."
Pedersen said FPL should be required to get a customer's written consent before installing smart meters on a home.
He said FPL delayed installing a smart meter on his home after receiving the letter.
Olnick said FPL does not share information about power consumption with any third party, unless the customer consents to it.
Law enforcement sometimes uses excessive power consumption to identify indoor marijuana grow houses, but smart meters don't affect that.
"We have to respond to any kind of legal court request, whether it is a smart meter or not," Olnick said.
Olnick also said FPL uses safeguards against unauthorized signal interception.
"The system that we use and the information that we transmit from