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FPL smart reader under fire

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Updated: 1/09 11:52 pm
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- James Day can't remember the last time a meter reader stopped by his St. Johns County home, or when he lost power for a long period of time.

"It's never been longer than 20 minutes, if that," he said.

That's because Day has a new FPL smart meter that's equipped with a two-way radio transmitter.

Florida Power and Light has installed the new technology, which can be controlled remotely, in nearly 180,000 northeast Florida homes since 2009, hoping to more efficiently manage Florida's largest power grid.

"These meters are now the standard. With this new technology, it helps us detect issues with the power system much quicker," said Elaine Hinsdale, an FPL Spokesperson. "It helps us restore power faster, and it helps FPL keep our customers' bills low."

Not everyone is convinced smart meters are a good thing, however. Critics argue they're a fire hazard, emit potentially dangerous radio frequencies, and allow FPL to act like "big brother."Big Brother.

So far, 2,600 local Northeast northeast Florida customers have opted out of having the smart meters installed at their homes and small businesses, a decision that may now come at a cost.

This week, the Florida Public Service Commission tentatively granted FPL the ability to add a $13 a month charge, in addition to a one-time $95 fee, to bills of customers who do not make the switch by spring. FPL had originally proposed a $105 fee and $16 a month charge.

"That will help us cover the cost of maintaining the multiple systems and the additional staffing to provide them with the non-standard nonstandard meter," says Hinsdale.

It's a cost that Day is thankful he doesn't have to pay. So far, health and security concerns haven't been an issue at his home.

"I haven't heard any type of radio feedback on phones that we've been using in the house or any type of interference, my wife and I are still in perfect health, so I'm not terribly concerned."concerned," he said.

While he's hopeful FPL will continue to provide what he claims is consistent service with the new system, he is glad other's others are given a choice.

"I always encourage people to ask questions if they're concerned about new technology."

technology," he said.

FPL insists the information collected by the smart meters is fully encrypted, and not stored in a database. In addition, it claims the radio frequency emitted is in short bursts that last a few seconds.

FPL will now modify it's proposed increase to reflect the lower increase approved by the FPSC. Once finalized, the increase will be reflected in customer's bills by June, says Hinsdale. She adds that the company is now focused on educating the 24,000 customers statewide who are still utilizing the old meters. The company estimates 12,000 customers will remain on the old system once the fees are in place.

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