Will Seattle's new energy meters be too smart? The ACLU is worried | KUOW News and Information

Will Seattle's new energy meters be too smart? The ACLU is worried

Jun 9, 2017

Seattle City Light will place advanced meters in homes and apartment buildings this summer.

Crews will start installing the meters north of the Ship Canal and work their way south.

City officials say the digital meters will record the energy consumption of an entire house, or in the case of apartment buildings, the entire level.

They'll collect the data and send it wirelessly to Seattle City Light's system. 

The utility's Scott Thompsen says the digital meters will give customers a more accurate reading of their energy usage.

It will also mostly eliminate the estimated reads that were partly responsible for past billing errors.

“With advanced metering, we don't have to depend on a meter reader being able to get into your yard, and go to your meter, and physically visit it in order to get the information,” says Thompsen.

“The meter sends it to us wirelessly. And you're going to have a direct reading on how much electricity you've used.”

A smart meter.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

But the ACLU calls the new system powerful surveillance technology.

Among other complaints, the ACLU's Shankar Narayan says City Light's current privacy assessment is unclear.  Narayan says they want much more transparency on what will happen with the customer data that will be handled by a third party.

Narayan suggests the City Council push the utility to update its privacy implementation process. “To actually reflect what the meters are doing and make sure that there's a binding policy around how smart meters are used and then put that into statute at the City Council level.”

Households can opt out of getting a smart meter but there's a one-time fee of $124, plus $15.86 per billing cycle.

More information on how to opt-out of the service is on the Seattle City Light website.

In an email to KUOW, City Councilmember Kshama Sawant's office wrote: “Kshama intends to bring together City Light and the ACLU to draft a AMI data privacy policy that codifies how data can and cannot be used and ultimately gives people the power to decide what happens to their own data.”