NEWPORT CITY – Last Thursday, the Vermont Public Service Board held a public hearing over the Vermont Interactive Television (VIT) Network to give Vermonters input on Smart Meters and Smart Grid technology.
Smart Meters enable utility companies to read electric meters without the need of going to the customer’s house. Smart meters can send data over the utility line or wirelessly over the airwaves.
The Vermont Electric Cooperative already has smart meters that send data over electrical lines. The role of the public service board is to participate on behalf of the public and serve as the public’s advocate. In 2009, the state’s utility companies worked together to file a joint application with the Department of Energy for grant funding to implement smart meter technology.
The utility companies believe smart meters 1.) will provide a more reliable electric system; 2) provide a potential savings by reducing the cost to produce, deliver and consume electricity; 3.) provide an environmental benefit by greater ability to use renewable power, more efficient generation, delivery, and consumption; and 4.) continuous monitoring will facilitate the coordination of resources, reduce outage duration and improve power quality to better support the demands of modern technology.
Electric customers who opt out of Smart Meter Technology may face an additional fee. In other words, they will have to pay to have someone come and read their meters.
Most of the people who testified at the hearing expressed concerns about the negative health effects of having wireless transmitters on their properties as well as privacy issues.
Bob Cooper of Holland and Dennis Liddy of Westfield were the only two people who spoke at the Newport VIT site. Cooper said he is concerned about the negative health effects, privacy and added cost for those who wish to opt out of having a smart meter.
Those Vermonters who choose not to have a wireless meter could use smart meters that transmit data over the utility lines, Cooper said. “I think it’s something that needs to be considered,” he said. “Those concerned about microwave radiation, and I’m one of them, should be allowed to opt out for free.”
Libby, who agreed, said that he should not have to pay someone for something he does not want just to protect his own health. Libby is also worried about customer information being sold to third parties.
Martine Victor, who spoke from the Bennington site, said the amount saved is less than what is represented. She also said there is a lot of information coming out about the negative health effects of wireless technology.
She said that rolling out such a system without knowing all the impacts is irresponsible. Victor said the technology is the same used by cellular phones that some people believe causes brain tumors.
Chris Pratt, who spoke from the Brattleboro site, said that not to address the health issue is absurd for a board that talks about consumer protection. He said some countries do not sell cellular phones to teenagers because of concerns for cancer.
“It’s like having a cell tower within 200 to 600 feet of someone who has a smart meter,” said Pratt, who was quoting from a study he read. “Even if I opt out, if I go for a walk, I am blasted by everyone else who has a smart meter.”
Olga Gulinska, who lives in Wells, said having an opted out policy is necessary and there should not be an extra charge. “It’s almost like this charge is penalizing people who want to protect their families from the health effects and dangers,” she said.
Executive Director Alan Gilbert, from the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont, said his organization is concerned about when personal data is collected. The data, he said, is of great interest to law enforcement for a variety of reasons.
“It’s critically important that law enforcement not be able to obtain Vermonters' smart meter data without a warrant,” said Gilbert. “Any subpoena should be presented to the customer him or herself, not to the utility.”
Making the subpoena available to the customer protects the privacy rights of citizens. It also makes things clear to utilities how to respond to requests made by law enforcement.