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City Council reaffirms no-fee 'smart' meter opt-out

The Ashland City Council renewed its commitment to a no-fee opt-out policy for residents who don't want radio-frequency-wave-emitting electric meters on their property.

On Tuesday night, councilors voted, 4-2, to stick with a May decision to not charge people who want to opt out.

City staff members had warned that a no-fee opt-out policy could cost city coffers anywhere from $12,000 to $150,000 annually. Rates may have to be raised on all electric customers to cover the costs.

About 30 people came to speak at the council meeting about their concerns that radio-frequency meters could cause health problems.

Naturopathic physician Bonnie Nedrow was among those who said that not enough scientific research has been done to show whether the meters are safe.

"We don't know. We don't know one way or another," she said.

Only one resident came to speak out against electric meter fears, saying that Ashland has become infested with a spirit of quackery.

City Councilors Greg Lemhouse, David Chapman, Dennis Slattery and Carol Voisin voted to keep the no-fee opt-out policy and to have city staff do a cost-benefit analysis of whether the meters really save the city money.

Radio-frequency meters emit signals so that meter readers do not have to come onto people's property. They also smooth the utility billing process, according to city staff.

Slattery said it wouldn't be fair to charge people to opt out of the meters when people are concerned about their health.

Councilors Russ Silbiger and Mike Morris voted against the no-fee opt-out policy.

Silbiger said being afraid of radio-frequency meters was akin to being scared of monsters under the bed.

Morris said people are putting great demands on the electric grid through electric cars, iPads and other gadgets. He said Ashland eventually needs to move to an even more advanced version of electric meters, which are often called "smart" meters.

There are different types of smart meters, with some emitting waves for meter readers, and others with more advanced features that allow electric utilities and customers to monitor and trim usage during peak load times.

The Bonneville Power Administration, which wholesales electricity to the city's Ashland Electric Department, plans to charge communities higher rates if they can't rein in electricity use.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.