Florida Power & Light customers in Manatee County will soon have "smart meters" installed to measure their energy use.
The new digital meters, which will replace old ones affixed to houses and apartment complexes, contain a radio device that connects it to the electric grid. FPL says that device will pulse for a few seconds about six times a day, telling FPL how much energy customers are using. Customers will also be able to access their accounts online, showing them how much energy they are using each day.
"So it's great we no longer have to send meter readers out to homes," said FPL spokeswoman Elaine Hinsdale. "We no longer have to send … trucks out to patrol in a neighborhood to find out where there's an outage."
But not everyone is happy about the new system.
Smart meters in Florida and around the country have sparked some controversy, with some power customers raising health concerns. FPL says the meters are safe, remain off most of the time and emit only a small amount of radio frequency.
Monique Thomas is among those fighting against the smart meters. Thomas says she experienced headaches and heart palpitations while living in an apartment with a smart meter in the past, and attributed them to smart meters in her neighborhood.
When she moved to Manatee County, she didn't want a smart meter installed outside her home.
"Unfortunately these utility companies are forcing them upon us," Thomas said. "It's just not right."
Thomas says she moved again right after Christmas, worried about the anticipated smart meter rollout.
The customers in Manatee County represent the final phase of a rollout throughout FPL's coverage area. About 4.3 million customers have already received smart meters. The installations are scheduled to be finished in April, with the new meters expected to be activated by summer.
Hinsdale, the FPL spokeswoman, says most customers who object to the smart meters "come around and accept this new technology" after learning more about the meters.
"They're a lot like baby monitors and wireless monitors and garage door openers," Hinsdale said. "Those operate all on the same radio frequency spectrum."
FPL quotes a doctor who did a study for the company, saying someone would have to be exposed to the radio frequency from a smart meter for 375 years to get the same dose experienced from talking on a cell phone for 15 minutes a day over one year.
The Florida Public Service Commission, which regulates utility companies in the state, held a workshop on smart meters in September after inquiries from the public. PSC staff is expected to submit an analysis on the issue, but has not done so yet.
Hinsdale said about 13,000-14,000 customers have told FPL they do not want the smart meters, and their installations are on hold until FPL finds out whether it will get any additional direction from the PSC.
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