Homeowners furious with new electric meters in yards

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by JONATHAN BETZ

WFAA

Posted on September 27, 2011 at 9:59 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 5 at 6:17 PM

DALLAS — For ten years, Dave Lopez found peace in his townhome, tucked in a leafy part of Uptown overlooking the Katy Trail. Suddenly, he said his slice of Turtle Creek was invaded by beige intruders.

“It looks like a graveyard,” Lopez said. “I’ve never seen a community ripped apart like this.”

Earlier this month, Oncor began installing electric pedestals in his development on Buena Vista Street in Dallas.

The beige electrical towers stand five feet tall and hold the utility’s new advanced meters. Dozens now line his street, sitting just off the sidewalk.

“I think if you exercise a certain degree of intelligence, these towers would never have been built," Lopez said. "These 'tombstones' would never appear!”

The pedestals are part of the Dallas-based utility’s effort to replace every electric meter across North Texas with advanced, electronic “smart” meters.

Millions have been installed to great controversy over concerns the meters lead to higher bills. Oncor insists this is not true and points to repeated studies showing the meters work properly.

In this neighborhood, however, the fear is how the pedestals look.

Homeowner Kelley Westbrook has a few choice adjectives, including “guard gate," "tombstone" and "industrial plant.”

“It’s embarrassing,” Westbrook concluded.

When the townhomes were built in the early 70s, the developer placed the electric meters along the sidewalk instead on the sides of the buildings.  The original meters were installed in green boxes, no higher than a foot off the ground. Homeowners planted shrubs to hide them.

Now, neighbors complain, there’s no way to disguise the pedestals.

“They ripped out the majority of our landscaping that was here,” said Westbrook, as she pointed to a substantial gap in her row of hedges.

The pedestal stands almost as tall as her.

“Just as easily as they installed them, they need to be removed,” Westbrook said.

Oncor, however, has no plans to remove its pedestals.

Jeamy Molina, a company spokesperson, said its new meters simply wouldn’t fit in the old ground-level bases. Besides, she said the pedestals are also easier to repair.

“Honestly we know our customers don’t really like how they look,” Molina said, “but it’s just something we really had to do.”

Oncor has already installed 200 of the pedestals in yards across North Texas. It expects a total of 750 to dot neighborhoods in Dallas and Irving.

“We are in constant contact with the homeowners’ associations,” she said. “We’re trying to make arrangements to sit and talk with them and listen to them and hear what ideas and thoughts they have on this.”

Molina said Oncor is open to suggestions.

But homeowners are convinced the electricity provider has no interest in helping them. They say repeated complaints have gone largely unanswered.

“It’s the disregard for the neighborhood that is so disheartening here,” Lopez said.

He was trying to sell his home when the pedestal appeared in his front yard. Now he worries about his townhome’s first impression.

“It makes the property look like a very downscale neighborhood,” Lopez said. “It’s not - it’s a beautiful neighborhood!”

E-mail jbetz@wfaa.com

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