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Customers could lose electrical service

EWEB is getting pushback fom smart meter opponents

EUGENE: EWEB reports it is modernizing utility infrastructure to enhance efficiency, reliability, and sustainability. The initiative includes upgrading to smart meters, which commenced in 2018, as part of ongoing efforts to improve service delivery and meet evolving industry standards.

However, the utility says a small but vocal faction of smart grid opponents is obstructing EWEB’s ability to install the new meters on their properties, resorting to threats against utility workers and tactics to impede equipment maintenance. This group is advertising misleading information in the Eugene Weekly and campaigning on social media for what the Eugene Waterr & Electric Board calls “outdated, pre-Internet solutions.”

Some individuals, EWEB says, have issued violent threats if the utility attempts to maintain or replace the meters, which are utility-owned equipment and a condition of receiving utility services.

EWEB General Manager Frank Lawson expressed disappointment at the “misinformation and threats of violence in response to sensible policies that are industry standards.”

“As a publicly owned utility, EWEB welcomes customer input and diverse perspectives. But the utility must balance competing interests and priorities to serve the broader public good, even if it means moving forward without unanimous support.”

Lawson added that, “EWEB will disconnect electricity service if these customers continue to willfully refuse conditions of service.” Threatening behavior is also a violation of EWEB policies.

Some opponents have promoted claims that smart meters will be used for remote surveillance of customers’ intimate activities and misinformation linking them to unrelated health issues like COVID-19 vaccines.

Officials say some of the most concerning tactics encourage individuals to purchase their own electric meters online and install them independently, an act that EWEB says poses significant electrical hazards. In addition, some opponents have circulated stock images falsely portraying EWEB security staff dressed as armed SWAT officers and equating the utility to oppressive regimes.

“Such actions are deemed reckless and endanger both the community and EWEB staff,” according to a press release from the utility.

The issues have been part of discussions at more than 20 public meetings and that included establishing an opt-out program that allows customers to request EWEB to disable the meters’ communication function.

“EWEB has honored the public process and listened to the concerns of these customers,” says Frank Lawson. “If smart grid opponents don’t want the meter to transmit and receive information, they have a choice—elect the manual meter reading option.”

EWEB emphasizes that its actions regarding smart meters align with thoroughly evaluated, approved, and legal policies. The utility’s Customer Service Policy permits customers to choose a non-communicating mode for the meter but does not extend to allowing customers to select meter types or models.

EWEB says some smart grid opponents have flooded inboxes with cherry-picked website links and dubious legal threats, demanding changes according to their interpretation of smart grid technology.

“Inundating staff to make it difficult to thoroughly evaluate each source, selectively presenting information while downplaying contradictory evidence, and flooding policymakers to create the illusion of widespread support are common misinformation campaign tactics,” says Lawson. “That is not how good public policy decisions are made. EWEB customers rely on their utility to deliver safe, reliable, affordable power and water. That is our job and our staff are highly qualified, professional, and dedicated. Our citizen-elected board relies on the expertise of staff and rigorous analysis to inform decisions that serve the public interest.”

EWEB urges this group to cease their hazardous misinformation campaign. “We may not agree on this topic, but I hope that opponents will appreciate the manual meter reading option that EWEB provides, which is not always afforded to customers by all utilities,” says Lawson. “We value our customer relationships and appreciate cooperation with the reasonable conditions of service defined in EWEB’s customer service policy, allowing us to resolve this issue without disconnecting electric service.”

 

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