City approves smart meter opt-out policy

Burbank Water and Power customers who want to opt out of having a digital meter measure their residential power usage have two months to inform the utility, according to a new policy approved by the City Council.

Despite some confusion among opponents, Joanne Fletcher, assistant general manager for customer service and marketing at the utility, said in an email that the opt-out policy will be open to all customers.

About 90 customers, most of them homeowners, have said they do not want the new meter, citing health and privacy concerns, among others.

Customers who choose to opt-out will have to pay a $75 one-time fee and a $10 monthly fee under the program approved last week, Fletcher said. Those who want to opt out have 60 days from the council’s March 6 decision to enroll.

Low- to moderate-income households will pay $5 to $10 a month.

In neighboring Glendale, about 150 residents have requested to opt out. Any resident who chooses to do so will pay between $35 and $56. A digital meter that does not transmit to Glendale Water and Power will be installed.

Councilman David Gordon, who was the lone dissenting vote, said the public’s trust of the utility and the public’s concerns about health impacts, whether real or perceived, should not be taken lightly.

“We often hear people come to the [City Council] and say, ‘You’re not listening to me,’” Gordon said. “Citizens own the utility and many people feel they’re not having a voice.”

Fletcher said Burbank Water and Power has been planning to update the meters for the last four years and has been in contact with customers who made inquiries.

“All who expressed concerns were addressed individually,” Fletcher said. “Do we continue to disagree? Yes.”

Gordon felt the additional cost of opting out could be shared or spread among existing ratepayers, but others on the council disagreed.

The Burbank utility said a meter with no radio, or that does not transmit automatically, or an analog meter were the cheapest options.

But there are disadvantages and inefficiencies, Fletcher said.

The disadvantage of a meter with no radio or the ability for automated meter-reading would not have outage visibility and would need two storage systems for data, among other shortcomings, Fletcher said.

An analog meter has no operational benefits, in addition to the disadvantages cited for a meter with no radio, and would mean the utility has an aging meter in its system, Fletcher said.

The fees paid will go to the associated costs of essentially “keeping two books,” as Councilwoman Emily Gabel-Luddy put it when asking about the costs and efficiency of keeping an alternative system to capture the data from meters that are read manually.

Fletcher said the costs presented at the meeting were not everything; rather, they represented “big-ticket items.”

The utility has been eliminating its meter-reader positions. A staff member would be paid on an hourly basis, or overtime, to collect information from the opt-out meters.

New, analog meters are not an option, although refurbished analog meters are available, Fletcher said.

Mayor Jess Talamantes said he felt the city was doing its due diligence by making an opt-out program available for those who felt the meters were contributing to health problems.

“We’re being responsive with an opt-out program,” Talamantes said.

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