KAPAA, Kauai (AP) - Kauai's electric utility is considering allowing users to opt out of "smart meters" - technology that helps both utilities and consumers use energy more efficiently but that critics fear may threaten human health and violate people's privacy.
The CEO of the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, David Bissell, told The Garden Island newspaper after a board meeting Tuesday that members will get to decide for themselves whether they want one.
"The board is saying we'll allow the members a choice," Bissell said. "We won't force smart meters to go on to any house or business at this time."
Smart meters allow a utility to remotely read customers' meters, connect and disconnect service and know when a customer has experienced a power outage. The information also helps customers understand more about their energy use and can guide them to use energy more efficiently.
The utility plans to begin installing them over an 18-month period beginning in May.
On Tuesday, a handful of protesters with signs lined the street outside the Kapaa hotel where the board met holding signs saying "Smart Meters Violate Privacy" and "Stop Cancer Meter Radiation."
Health officials in Maine, another state where utilities are installing the technology, have said smart meters are no more harmful that using a cellphone, a wireless Internet router or a cordless phone.
Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc., which supplies power to the rest of the state through its subsidiaries, has conducted pilot projects with smart meters on Oahu and is testing a "smart grid" project on Maui. It says advanced metering is a key component of its plan to make its electricity systems more efficient and reliable and increase the use of renewable energy.
Bissell said the co-op must determine how many members wish to defer the installation of smart meters to determine the cost structure of the fee KIUC would charge those who wish to opt out.
"There's a huge difference whether it's 10 members or it's 100 members or it's 1,000 members on what those costs are going to be," he said.
The utility would have to submit its proposed fee to the state Public Utilities Commission for approval. If the PUC approves the fee, the utility may then offer an opt-out alternative at the approved rate.
Until then, those who do not wish to have a smart meter can have it "indefinitely deferred," Bissel said.
Co-op member Marge Dente, one of a dozen co-op members to testify at the meeting, told the board that members shouldn't be charged if they don't want a smart meter installed.