Albert Rukwaro
Special to The Gardner News
Gardner City Council, following recommendations by the Utilities Advisory Commission, approved a motion to adopt an opt-out program for the upcoming smart meter project during a meeting December 3.
According to Gonzalo Garcia, utilities director, city staff recommended the adoption of two opt-out programs — digital and medical —without charging affected consumers any fees.
“On October 21, the city council directed staff to develop a smart meter policy allowing customers to have the option of opting out in favor of manual meter readings, and evaluate if an opt-out plan can be provided at no cost,” said Garcia in a presentation to the council.
Garcia said the city contacted the Kansas Municipal Utilities (KMU), American Public Power Association (APPA) and the Kansas Municipal Energy Association (KMEA) among other organizations to determine the best way to proceed.
Garcia said that according to the research, most states either have a case by case opt-out program or don’t have such policies in place.
In Kansas, of the nine largest electric municipalities, only three- Ottawa, Garden City and Kansas City, Ks- have implemented smart meters, and none of them allows an opt-out program.
Garcia said that of the seven states that allow consumers to opt out of smart meters, only two allow consumers to opt out without a fee.
The digital opt-out program is available to any resident who objects to the smart meters. The meters will be installed but remain dormant except for once a month when they will be activated to send scheduled readings to the city’s utility billing department.
In the medical opt-out program, the meters will remain dormant. To take advantage of the medical option, residents will have to provide a statement to the city from a doctor attesting that for health reasons the consumer must avoid exposure to radio frequency emissions.
Meter readings for residents who opt out will be read manually.
The opt-out option is a result of lobbying by several residents who expressed fears that the frequencies emitted by the meters will negatively affect their health.
The city also had a public meeting in which residents presented their concerns.
During the same meeting, the council authorized the purchase and service agreement of the $4 million smart meter project to Nextgrid LLC.
The project is included in the 2019-2020 budget and will be paid out of the electric and water funds.
The council also approved an ordinance authorizing the issuance of $4.1 million in general obligation bonds to pay for the cost of the project.
Mathew Wolff, finance director, said the first series of the bonds will not be issued until 2020 and that future debt service for the bonds will be drawn from the electric and water funds.