Group says smart meters can be refused

Two of the country's largest electricity providers are installing smart meters in homes around the Waitaki district but an Oamaru group says people can opt out if they have concerns about the technology.

Smart meters measure electricity at a more detailed level than older-style meters and enable two-way communication between the meter and the utility company.

They use the same radio-frequency communication as mobile phones.

In September, Meridian Energy started its installation programme in the district, where it has 8500 customers on the Network Waitaki network, while Contact Energy has also started installing meters.

In July, before installations started, an Oamaru couple questioned the potential health and environmental impacts of smart meters and held several public meetings, attended by about 60 people in total, to discuss the issue.

Oamaru man Rob Hutchins, who formed the New Zealand Electrosensitivity Trust, chaired two of the meetings.

However, electricity companies have rejected claims smart meters are unsafe and say there is no solid evidence to suggest otherwise.

A Meridian Energy spokesperson said a "good number'' of customers had had smart meters installed, and other customers were "keen to explore alternatives available to them''.

Contact Energy said the company had installed about 100 smart meters in Waitaki.

Trustpower had no immediate plans to install them but would roll them out region by region in the "not too distant future'', community relations manager Graeme Purches said.

While installations were ongoing, Mr Hutchins said there were still many people in Oamaru who did not want them in their homes.

"The movement has taken off and a lot more people know about it.

"In some places, especially in the USA, it's actually a criminal offence to install them in some counties and cities ... such is the concern.''

He said people who did not want a smart meter installed could put it in writing to their electricity provider.

"Network Waitaki is going quite easy on that, while others are not,'' Mr Hutchins said.

- Daniel Birchfield 

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