Florida Power & Light will begin work Monday in Manatee County installing the latest technological advance that continues the societal shift into the digital world.
Smart meters hold numerous advantages for both the company and the consumer. Still, a number of Manatee FPL customers among the 167,000 in the county have raised objections to the devices.
Before embarking on this massive undertaking in 35 counties with 4.5 million customers, FPL rolled out the project before state utility regulators and the public in an open process in 2009.
With approval in hand, the company soon began replacing the old-style mechanical meters, with their spinning parts totaling electrical consumption. Smart meters contain no moving parts and send signals to a shoe-box-sized communication relay device mounted on a power pole. That device collects total usage for a number of customers and relays the data to the utility.
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FPL will no longer need to send meter readers out to homes and businesses to jot down numbers once a month. With a digital system relaying information several times a day instead of monthly, the utility can more easily predict and prevent power outages and restore electricity quicker. That's a major plus over the old meters.
Consumers can benefit by accessing their power usage online or by phone. These energy dashboards let customers monitor consumption by the hour, day and month -- and possibly cut back and save money. This can be accomplished on the utility's website, www.fpl.com.
Opposition to smart meters primarily centers around privacy and health issues.
Critics assert the meters provide utilities with a large amount of information about consumer electrical usage that the companies could sell to corporations and the government, compromising privacy. The FPL devices do no such thing, the company unequivocally states. The meters only compile total electrical consumption without regard to specific electronics and other electrical appliances and equipment in a house or business.
On health, meter opponents claim the devices use the same technology as cell phones, labeling wireless technology as a public health threat that can cause brain tumors. In a fact sheet on cell phones and cancer risk, the National Cancer Institute notes that studies have not found a consistent link between the phones and cancers of the brain, nerves or other tissues in the head and neck.
With more than 300 million subscribers to cell phone service in this country -- and countless businesses and homes with wireless computer connections -- people are subjected to quite a bit of radiofrequency energy. Yet science cannot ascertain a health threat.
FPL's smart meters are not a constant sourceof radio waves. The devices only transmit some six times per day with a short pulse.
The meters remain off about 99 percent of the time. Plus, being outside, those quick radio waves cannot compare with the ones from cell phone usage.
As the cancer institute also observes, the only known biological effect of radio waves is heating, just like a microwave oven. The heating impact on humans from a cell phone is negligible, however, and would be nonexistent with smart meters.
For anyone with strong objections, FPL will allow customers to delay installation of smart meters until near the end of a particular region -- in Manatee County's case, the utility expects to complete work in three months.
This brave new world of ours is increasingly digital and wireless. Smart meters are but one sign of that trend -- with almost a third of American households operating with one and that number expected to almost double over the next three years.