The rollout of smart electric meters across the country has run into a few snags: one woman doesn't want one, and ended up in the dark as a result.
You might not think that would be an issue. But it is, because Duke Energy is now beginning to disconnect any homeowner who refuses a new electric meter.
Other electric companies are not pulling the plug...yet.
Generator now her only power
Sharon Kinder-Geiger started every day for a week by starting her gas generator. She needed it because she had no electric power. Her lights were out, her electric meter stopped spinning.
But this is not because of a storm, or for failing to pay her bill.
It's because this self-employed photographer, and mother of a school-age child, has refused to allow a new smart meter in her home.
Result: A lineman pulled up and disconnected her from the grid.
"He said 'We've been instructed to turn off your power.' And I said 'Well, you've got to do your job.' What can I say, I do not want a smart meter in my home," she said.
Some homeowners say no
Smart meters eliminate the need for monthly readings, and help homeowners learn when they use the most electric. They can also be used to set different electric rates for different times of day.
But some homeowners across the country are saying no.
"I have a right to choose what goes on in my home. I want a safe home for my child, I want a healthy environment for her," Kinder-Geiger said.
She has read reports claiming smart meters' RF radio waves could be causing some health problems.
So she would rather use a fireplace, candles, and a generator in the home she shares with her daughter.
"I got a generator, I run it for four hours a day, I let my fridge run for about 15 minutes every couple of hours, and turn it on at night so my child can watch a movie," Kinder-Geiger said.
UPDATE: Since we first interviewed her, Kinder-Geiger, she has relented and agreed to allow Duke to install a smart meter, until she can get solar panels up and running. She expects to be able to switch to solar and get "off the grid" by the end of the year.
Some places allow opting out
Several states, including California, Michigan, Maryland, Nevada, Vermont and Maine have passed laws allowing customers to opt out of smart meters, usually by paying a small monthly fee. Check with your state's utility commission for details.
In Ohio, Florida, and most other states, however, you cannot opt out.
But in Texas, which also has no opt out law, armed homeowners with guns have turned away installers.
Duke defends meters
Utility companies insist the concerns are unfounded, and that the meters are not used to monitor people's electric use.
Duke spokeswoman Sally Thelen also told us the meters have been tested by the federal government for years, and there is no reason for any health concerns.
"There's really not that sort of issue. Think of it as if you are going into a Starbucks, or going into somewhere with WiFi, like an airport, or a baby monitor, or garage door opener," Thelen explained "Wireless technology is all around us, it is not unique to just the power industry."
Thelen said if Duke allowed people to opt out, the company would have to run two separate meter systems, and costs would soar, costs that might have to be passed onto other ratepayers.
Will not give up
Kinder-Geiger, meantime, feels utilities don't have the right to force smart meters.
"Let me tell you something, John," she said. "Losing my freedom is a bummer. That would be a bummer for me. Losing my power, that's an inconvenience. I will not stand down on this."
As always, don't waste your money.
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