MLGW: Smart meters contributed to increase in utility cut-offs

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — MLGW officials released new numbers Thursday that indicate they are cutting off households more often than in past years.

William Jones knows what it's like to live in the dark. He said his daughter got behind on the bills because they had a water leak.

Eventually, MLGW cut them off.

"It went up to $2,200," he said of his bill.

Jones is one of tens of thousands to have their power cut off by MLGW.

MLGW said it cut off households 90,000 times in 2015 and 100,000 times in 2016. That includes multiple cut-offs for the same household.

In 2017, it went up by the biggest margin, with nearly 130,000 cut-offs for the year.

MLGW’s Gale Jones Carson attributed the rise to weather, since the utility company does not cut off power during extreme heat and cold. She said 2015 and 2016 had more extreme weather than 2017.

But she also attributed the increase to smart meters, which wirelessly transmit usage levels back to the utility company without needing someone to come out and read it.

"We have the capacity to cut off more customers for non-payment remotely," Carson said. "By the same token, we can also turn customers' service back on remotely much more quickly."

Carson also said reconnect fees go down from $25 to $11.44 when you have a smart meter, so it can help customers save money.

She also says the smart meters reduce MLGW’s debt, which saves money in operating costs and from crime.

“We had a great deal of utility theft, but now with the smart meters we can immediately tell when people are tampering with out meters," she said.

But for people like Jones, living in the dark will never seem like a good idea.

“I haven’t been able to take a decent shower or bath," he said.

He said he’s now considering going to a shelter.

MLGW officials said they were ahead of schedule installing smart meters. They said they should finish putting them in to residences by the end of this year. People must opt out of installation if they don't want smart meters. About four percent of customers have called to do so, Carson said.

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