PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Florida's top utilities commissioner told St. Lucie County residents and local officials Monday it'll take more than just his state board to look into safety concerns raised over radio-controlled smart meters.
Public Service Commission Chairman Ronald Brisé told a panel of officials and a town hall crowd at the Port St. Lucie Community Center that his commission's job is to ensure meters are reliable, accurate and cost-effective. But that's about where the PSC's jurisdiction ends. He didn't offer any timeline for action, or indicate what kind of changes could be in the works — such as pushing to let customers opt out of the new meters.
"To consider the full spectrum of smart meter concerns, it will take collaboration of many state agencies," Brisé said. "...We hope sooner than later we will have a more conclusive response to that, and if my understanding is correct, there are several entities at the table right now working to see what would be the appropriate response for Florida with respect to smart meters, considering the way our laws are laid out and the interaction between our agencies."
Some residents have been suspicious that the meters could spark electrical fires. Florida Power & Light officials say their new meters are completely safe, have never sparked flames and maintain that it's a marginal percentage of residents with criticisms.
Local fire officials have said during a handful of meter-related fires, it was impossible to tell if the smart meter itself, or the "can" that encloses the meter, caused the fire. The can is the homeowner's responsibility. The meter is FPL's. One of those fires damaged a Parks Edge home in St. Lucie County in February.
"We were unable to determine whether or not it was caused by the can or the meter," St. Lucie County Fire District Chief Ron Parrish said of the Parks Edge fire.
Some residents go as far as worrying about the meters' radiation emissions, or even wondering if utility companies can spy on their families' energy use with the new meters. FPL dismisses both theories.
Maj. Brandon Ball with the Division of State Fire Marshal said his division has responded to less than a dozen smart meter fires in the last six months. FPL began rolling out its new meters in October on the Treasure Coast, and it plans to finish installing the remaining devices by the end of 2013, FPL spokeswoman Elaine Hinsdale said.
Rep. Gayle Harrell, a Stuart Republican who hosted the roundtable event, said the state Legislature didn't take up anything smart-meter-related in the last January-to-March legislative session. But the 2013 session could be a different story, she said.
FPL Vice President of Smart Grid Solutions Bryan Olnick added that currently, the company will delay installing a smart meter if a resident has a concern.