Treasure Coast Officials want smart meter opt-out program

Public Service Commission reviewing concerns

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - The power company has a new high tech way of figuring out how much energy you're using at home.  It's called a Smart Meter.  It's a new wireless device that's being installed on just about every home in South Florida.

It's also a device that has sparked concern with some homeowners.  The Contact 5 Investigators have spent the past year reporting on those concerns which range from fire concerns to safety and privacy concerns.

Click here to watch the story on fire concerns.

Click here to watch the story on safety concerns.

Click here to watch the interview about privacy concerns.

 "Smart meters are safe and secure and we want our customers to be confident that they're getting a good product," said Bryan Garner, a spokesperson with Florida Power and Light.

But some customers aren't confident about the product and now some local officials are saying customers should not be forced to get a new meter if they don't want one.  They're pushing for more options for customers.

Some elected officials on the Treasure Coast said regardless if the concerns are valid or not, homeowners should have the option of keeping their analog meter.

Commissioners in Indian River and Brevard Counties passed resolutions saying homeowners should have the right to opt out.

"They shouldn't have to have it, they should have the ability to opt out," said Indian River County Commission Chairman Gary Wheeler.

"I do really believe that individuals should have some rights to opt out of certain things offered by a monopoly," said Wheeler.

In the city of Sebastian, commissioners wrote a letter to Florida Power and Light with a similar request. 

"There is a monopoly, you don't have a choice of where you can go get power, unless you want go and start riding a bicycle really fast in your living room,' said council member Andrea Coy.

The Contact 5 Investigators discovered even the Inspector General of the Public Service Commission questioned whether there should be an opt out provision in an email he sent back in January.  That's the agency that regulates power companies.

"I want to assure you that we are listening," said the Chairman of the PSC Ronald Brise during a public hearing in St. Lucie County.

The chairman said they're listening and investigating.  But after receiving more than 400 pages of complaints and concerns, they haven't taken any action.  In fact, the state agency in charge of protecting consumers said they may not have the power to do anything at all.

"Where does the buck stop?" asked Representative Gayle Harrell.

"At this point, um, let's see how I can answer that fairly right, at this point to a large degree it's in the hands of the utility," responded Brise.

In the hands of the power company itself.  The same company that says there aren't enough concerns yet to offer a permanent alternative.

"For those who still have concerns and we're talking about less than one tenth of one percent of our customers, we've agreed to temporarily postpone the installation of the smart meter while we work through their unique concerns," said Garner.

But for the concerned customers, they say a temporary fix isn't enough.

"They'll be coming to me as one of the last people in the community, but that's not good enough," said homeowner Stephanie Austin.

The Public Service Commission said they don't have a time limit to investigate.  But some homeowners want them to act quickly.  More than three million meters have already been installed and another million will be in place by next year.

Investigative Producer Lynn Walsh contributed to this story.

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