CITY HALL — With a growing group of residents asking to opt out of plans to install high-tech smart meters, Glendale Water & Power likely will be forced to offer an alternative to them.
Glendale officials have touted the multi-million dollar smart-grid project — which will allow two-way communication with the utility and let customers track real-time water and electricity consumption — as an effective way to encourage conservation and ease the detection of water leaks.
But a small group of residents concerned about a loss of privacy, and about the radio waves that the wireless meters emit, is resisting.
“It’s one of those things. No one really has any proof about it yet,” said Glendale resident Erik Bottema, one of roughly a dozen residents who had their meter installations postponed last month as utility officials wait to see what comes out of much larger residential protests in Northern California against Pacific Gas & Electric's smart-meter plan.
As of Friday, the list had grown to include 53 households in Glendale, officials said.
Utility officials say residents have no reason to be concerned, citing studies that have determined the wireless smart meters fall within federal guidelines for radio frequency emissions and expose residents to far less electromagnetic radiation than other common appliances.
Officials also emphasize that the opt-out requests represent less than 1% of the nearly 100,000 smart meters already installed.
But eventually the utility will have to decide whether to install the meters at all properties or to create a separate opt-out plan for customers.
The California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates investor-owned utilities, is weighing a proposal to allow PG&E customers to opt out from the meters, likely at a cost. Other utilities nationwide have mulled similar proposals.
Although Glendale does not come under purview of the state commission, local utility officials said they likely will follow its direction for a potential opt-out provision.
“[The utility] sent a follow-up letter saying most likely we can keep the meters and have to pay a certain amount per month to have them manually read,” Bottom said.
North Glendale apartment dweller Gina Puckett has in recent weeks sparred with contractors hired by the city to install the meters, who she said were pushy and returned several times to attempt installation.
“It’s almost like I have to camp out at the house and guard the property,” said Puckett, who contacted utility officials and City Council members.
Apartment tenants can only request to opt out from their own unit’s electric meter, but have no say on neighboring installations, officials say. And a tenant cannot request to postpone changing a building’s master water meter.
“A tenant is not a GWP water customer and cannot opt out of this type of installation,” said Atineh Haroutunian, public benefits coordinator for the utility. “This direction can only come from the building owner.”
Puckett says the experience has left her frustrated by the lack of rights for apartment residents, even though they live near the meters.
“I’m falling between the cracks because I’m a tenant,” she said. “Renters have no rights.”