HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaiian Electric Co. is moving forward with plans to install controversial smart meters in homes across the state.
HECO says the high-tech models will improve reliability, provide customers with more control over their energy bills and allow the company to integrate more renewable energy sources into its grid.
But critics are worried about potential health risks, loss of privacy and increased costs.
"You add billions of dollars to their rate base. They'll be making profit on all of that but it's not clear yet whether the consumer will benefit from it," said Henry Curtis, executive director of the nonprofit Life of the Land.
The new smart meters will replace hundreds of thousands of odometer-like meters that are manually read monthly by HECO employees.
These new meters rely on wireless technology to transmit customers' billing information to HECO offices and service trucks and allow customers to review their electrical usage on a real-time basis, allowing them to make adjustments when costs rise.
But some critics worry about the health risks of being bombarded daily by these electromagnetic signals.
"The smart meters are on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The body has no defenses to cope with low level radiation," said Lihue resident Natan Kauakahi.
Utilities say that the health risks are relatively minor and are less than using a microwave.
Kauakahi is one of hundreds of customers on Kauai that Kauai Island Utility Cooperatives efforts to install smart meters on the Garden Island. Several lawsuits have been filed, prompting KIUC to allow consumers to opt out of the program.
HECO says it plans to offer customers a similar opt-out provision but declined to provide details. It also declined to provide any cost estimates on the program.
"Be assured that we will provide details when HECO asks the Public Utilities Commission to review a specific proposal to carry out this project," the company said in an email.
Life of the Land's Curtis says he's worried about the lack of detail.
"They've taken what appears to be a very high level bird's eye view of where they are going minus the details," he said.
"Without the details, you shouldn't be spending a billion dollars."
HECO and KIUC are part of an industry wide trend toward adopting smart meter technology but that technology has received resistance from thousands of consumers around the country.
In California, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. received thousands of complaints about rising electricity bills and health dangers when it rolled out its $2.2 billion program in 2006.
Many elderly customers on fixed incomes said their monthly electricity bills soared when smart meters were installed in their homes. Marin County moved to ban these meters due to the health risks, a move that's favored by some isle residents.
"The smart meter transmits over 90,000 to 100,000 times daily," said Lihue resident Kauakahi.
"The human body cannot take that amount of radiation and regain it's natural health."