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Nearly two dozen impassioned Eugene Water & Electric Board customers spoke to EWEB commissioners Tuesday night against the utility’s plan to install wireless “smart” meters by 2017.

Daniela Arnon said she experiences health issues that are caused from radio frequencies transmitted from wireless technologies, such as cell phones and WiFi. She said she has heart palpitations, nausea and ear pain.

If the utility decides to install smart meters that would also emit radio frequencies when they digitally transmit household energy consumption data to EWEB, she said she’d expect her symptoms to worsen.

She told commissioners during the meeting at EWEB’s riverfront headquarters that she refuses to call the meters “smart.”

“I call them ‘toxic’ meters, or ‘s’ meters,” Arnon said.

Those opposed to the smart meters cite studies that have found that exposure to radio waves can cause fatigue, dizziness, nausea, headaches, insomnia and a greater likelihood of cancer.

Several people raised other concerns to commissioners, saying the $24 million project would be a waste of money and that the wireless technology would make Eugene vulnerable to cyber attack.

“I don’t want it,” customer Bill Evans said. “It feels like an invasion to me.”

The public comment session, which was scheduled to last 30 minutes, lasted about an hour as 19 people testified in front of the commissioners.

EWEB’s five-member elected board is expected to vote on the project in October. Commissioners also will vote to approve a five-year contract with Sensus Metering Systems, a North Carolina-based smart meter manufacturer.

The utility would replace about 88,000 electric meters and 54,000 water meters with the smart meters, which contain a small radio inside them to transmit energy consumption. Customers who don’t want the wireless meter will be able to opt out but would most likely have to pay more than $200 a year.

EWEB predicts that it will save $9 million over a 20-year period with smart meters — less than the $20 million staff previously said it could save, smart meter project manager Greg Armstead told commissioners.

EWEB spokesman Lance Robertson said the utility decided to go with “more conservative numbers” when presenting to the board.

The bulk of the savings would come from not hiring employees to manually read the meters and not making frequent trips to customers’ homes to manually turn the power on and off, he said.

The utility would eliminate 20 employees, mostly meter readers. EWEB estimates that it will add two full-time employees and one part-time employee to work with the new system.

Commissioner Steve Mital was especially interested in learning that the meters could help the utility conserve water.

Customers can look at how and when they consume the most water with a smart meter through an in-home display, which EWEB hopes will give incentive to cut energy consumption.

Board president John Simpson said that although he hasn’t made up his mind about smart meters, he is mostly in favor of the technology.

“Whether EWEB installs smart meters or not, you’ve got to wake up and smell the roses,” he told the packed room. “There are radios everywhere. I probably can’t even count the number of radios that are in this room.”

His comments elicited responses from the crowd. Several people yelled that radio towers are causing health problems.

“We’ve been using radios for nearly a century,” Simpson said. “How do we know radios are causing the problem?”
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