The industry spin spruiking the benefits of smart meters has now seduced Australian water utilities.
Coliban Water, a regional Victorian water authority with a service area encompassing 49 towns, has bravely commenced on a six-year rollout of wireless smart meters to all residential and non-residential customers.
Coliban Water’s Summer 2017- 2018 Customer Update leaflet and Digital Meters webpage coyly refer to the new equipment, which is to be installed on existing water meters, as ‘digital’ meters. There is no mention of the fact that radiofrequencies – and more specifically, microwaves – will be used as the means of transmitting data from these ‘digital’ meters to network gateways, and from there on to telecommunication towers.
Only those customers keen enough to click on its ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ will be alerted to the technology underpinning the rollout. Naturally, the public is assured that the digital meters do not pose a health risk to customers or the community as the battery-powered meters transmit data every hour through low level radiofrequency waves, which “are well within Australian safety standards”.
Sadly, the Frequently Asked Questions webpage does not also inform customers that Australia’s radiofrequency standard is not fit for purpose. Or that 24/7 hourly radiofrequency transmissions impact, not only humans, but also the environment. The rollout of smart meters and gateways, which is reported to be using LoRaWAN network architecture operating in the same crowded spectrum as Australia’s mesh electricity smart meters, will add another ubiquitous layer of electro-pollution.
It appears that the public is to be stung again by an essential service provider. Whilst Coliban Water states that it is installing the digital meters because it is “always looking for innovative ways to identify cost savings and network efficiencies for our customers”, it remains to be seen how many customers might welcome the possibility of Time of Use tariffs; these have been flagged in Coliban Water’s Pricing Submission 2018 to the Essential Services Commission as being a vehicle to “empower customers”. Time of Use tariffs have been a resounding failure with Victorian electricity customers.
Other Australian water service providers are also keen to go down the wireless smart meter path. Western Downs Regional Council, in Queensland, received funding to replace its water meters with smart meters. Cairns Regional Council announced in June 2017 a $15.9 million project to install smart water meters. Melbourne water utilities City West Water, South East Water, and Yarra Valley Water are reported to have undertaken in-field ‘digital’ water metering trials.
Members of the public have until Friday, 9th March to give feedback on Coliban Water’s 2018 price proposal. If you think the costs and benefits of Coliban Water’s ‘digital’ meter deployment don’t stack up, this is your opportunity to have a say. As an alternative to using Engage Victoria’s form for making your submission, the Essential Services Commission has confirmed that comment can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org until Monday 12th March 2018.
A sign to print out and put beside your water meter is available here.