Tuesday, June 2, 2015

MLGW's $240M Smart Meter Project to Get Vote

Posted By on Tue, Jun 2, 2015 at 2:48 PM

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Memphis, Light, Gas, & Water’s [MLGW] $240 million smart meter implementation plan will get a vote by the Memphis City Council in two weeks after it went through a buzzsaw in a council committee Tuesday.

MLGW wants to buy more than 1 million smart meters from Germany-based Elster Solutions. The utility plans to replace most of the analog meters on its grid now with the digital smart meters. MLGW would install about 50,000 meters every four months. The project would be complete by 2020.

A smart meter team from MLGW, including its president Jerry Collins, presented its plan before the council’s MLGW committee Tuesday, armed with information about the meters’ benefits. But that didn’t stop council members and members of the public from rebuking the meters in general, and MLGW’s plan, more specifically.

“The pain of unborn babies is hard to bear,” Suhkara A. Yahweh (also known as Sweet Willie Wine, Prophet Yahweh, or Minister Yahweh), told the council’s MLGW committee Tuesday. “The heart of the people is saying no (to smart meters) but you’re not paying attention (to them). I thought you were the council of the people?”

Council member Joe Brown began council questions, worried that Elster would bring in “their own people” and not give jobs to locals “that need to work.” Collins told Brown the contract dictates 75 percent of those hired for the project here must come from Memphis and Shelby County.

Brown turned his attention, then, to the project’s price tag. Brown said he thought the price was too high, especially, as he said, since the country was still sunk in a recession.

Here’s what Brown said:

“My concern is you’re moving $240 million over five years. That’s a lot of revenue and we don’t even know who is going to be here in five years. I possibly may not be here in five years.

“What I’m saying is, that’s a lot of revenue to spend in recessionary times that we’re living in. The economy is at an all-time bleak. There is no revenue floating. We got plenty of citizens here in the city of Memphis that’s unemployed.

“The utility company basically has a strong financial base…How much is in your reserves at this time. Just tell me.”

Collins said the figure was around $150 million - $200 million, about 30 to 60 days of operating cash for the utility.

Council member Janis Fullilove began her questions and remarks by stating the obvious: she’s opposed to smart meters. Fullilove has fought smart meters for years at City Hall, even attacking MLGW president Collins personally, calling him names and often saying he has lied.

She began her remarks Tuesday by pointing out the price tag. Then, she echoed MLGW’s information that the program would be more efficient and that it would let rate-payers see their usage.

“It will also allow [MLGW] to see their usage and that’s like the government peeping in and listening in on a conversation,” Fullilove said. “It’s an intrusion.”

She said many have told her the smart-meter opt-out program isn’t working. Then she meandered to a question about how MLGW arrived at some of their savings data and then to how the meter exchange would actually work. Then she asked Collins what MLGW would do with the old, analog meters.

The question began this back-and-forth between Fullilove and Collins:

Fullilove: “I’m asking you because we hear about global warming all the time and the effect that it’s having on our environment and how we have to be more careful about what’s going on. How will that affect global warming?”

Collins: Smart meters give us the ability for our customers to use substantially less energy. When you use substantially less energy that has a positive net affect on global warming.”

Fullilove: How do they read that?

Collins: Obviously, the act of producing electrical energy is something which creates greenhouse gases. So, if you create less electricity because you use less, it has a direct benefit in terms of less production of greenhouse gases.

Fullilove: How do they read that?

Collins: If you use less electricity, that’s very easy to read.

Fullilove: How?

Collins: The meter records how much you use. You’ll either use the same amount. Or, you’ll use less. Or, you’ll use more. With smart meters you have a great opportunity for using less energy, which is measured. It’s measured every 15 minutes and you can tell when people are using less energy or the same amount.

Fullilove: Do they read the meter on the outside of their home to determine how much electricity they're using?

Others spoke and Yahweh was the last to speak. He ended his brief remarks this way:

“(Smart meters) are a weaponized weapon, used to reduce the entire population and it does nothing but steal money out of the treasury of the city,” Yahweh said. “If you vote for it… You’re killing my babies and everything else!”

When Yahweh refused to yield the floor, even after several attempts by MLGW committee chair Berlin Boyd to bring the meeting to order, the council’s sergeant-at-arms rose and walked toward Yahweh, who stopped speaking and repeated, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” 

The committee voted against the smart meter program. So, the project will go before the full council in two weeks with a negative recommendation from the committee.

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