Glendale residents who want to opt out of the city’s $70-million smart meter program now have the option to do so, but it will come with a price.
Under a new program approved by the City Council on Tuesday, the nearly 150 residents who have expressed interest in opting out, or .015% of Glendale Water & Power customers, will have to pay between $35 and $56 a month to stop the new digital meters from emitting signals, which opponents claim make them sick — an assertion that has been repeatedly refuted by officials.
Glendale Water & Power has installed smart electric and water meters that measure consumption in near-real time for nearly all customers, but a small group of opponents have loudly protested the new technology at City Hall meetings.
Throughout the country utilities that transition to smart meters are dealing with some form of backlash. Recently, the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates private utilities, ruled that Pacific Gas & Electric can charge its customers who want to opt out $10 a month on top of an initial fee of $75.
As a public utility, Glendale is not regulated by the commission, but often reviews their positions when setting policies.
Glendale officials wanted to charge an initial fee of $55 to $62, but that was shot down by the City Council, which along with the Glendale Water & Power Commission decided the high cost would be a barrier for those who want to opt out.
However, council members and commissioners said some charge was needed to recover costs.
The bimonthly fee would pay for workers to go out and manually download information from the new meters. The difference in price depends on whether one wants to switch off their electricity or water meter or both.
But opponents said they shouldn’t have to pay to opt out of something they didn’t choose to be part of in the first place.
“Anything short of a no-cost opt-out will not help people like me,” said resident Tony Passarella, who told the council that due to his electro-sensitivity, he has to sleep on a couch in his living room since his bed is a few feet from his meter.
Others opponents echoed his sentiments.
Utility officials said if opponents didn’t pay for the opt-out, the cost would have to be spread among all customers, something council members and commissioners disliked.
General Manager Glenn Steiger said he would have preferred no opt-out program at all.
“Our recommendation would be for no opt-out, quite frankly, because we believe an opt-out puts holes in the system,” Steiger said.
Councilman Frank Quintero added that he thought the opponents were blocking progress.
“This isn’t some isolated toy that GWP in general thought this was the way to go,” Quintero said. “Every advanced country in the world is headed in this direction.”