Saturday March 10, 2012

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Four Bennington County towns approved some form of anti-smart meter resolution this week, but Central Vermont Public Service says that will not impact its plans to begin rolling the devices out in the area.

Non-binding resolutions

Voters in Bennington, Dorset, Manchester and Sandgate all approved resolutions, either at floor meetings or on the ballot. Those towns may send letters to CVPS to indicate how they voted. But the resolutions are non-binding, and carry no authority to affect the utility's plans.

In fact, CVPS spokesman Steve Costello said everything remains on track for smart meters to be installed this year. Some have already been installed in Rutland County, and a total of about 160,000 will eventually be connected. The utility is planning to boost its efforts at educating the public on the devices, however, he said.

"We're definitely thinking about that because, quite honestly, the amount of misinformation out there is really disturbing," he said.

The resolution in Bennington, which passed on a voice vote during the annual floor meeting, called for a one-year moratorium on installation of the devices.

"Significant health questions have been raised by medical researchers and individuals regarding the increased and constant exposure to electromagnetic frequency radiation that Smart Meter technology represents," the resolution reads.

According to the Vermont Department of Health, smart meters use radio signals to communicate electricity demand through mobile telecommunications. The signals that are used -- radio frequency radiation, or RFR -- are the same used for radio and TV broadcasting. Microwave ovens, radar and wi-fi devices also emit RFR, but mobile phones are the most common source of exposure to RFR.

Smart meters emit some level of radio frequency radiation, and critics claim they are a health hazard. Costello maintains the devices have been studied and do not pose a risk.

"The smart meter is no more dangerous than a baby monitor. People are spreading misinformation and scaring people," Costello said. "This isn't the Vermont way. People are just saying things that are demonstrably untrue and it's really disturbing."

William Irwin, radiological health chief for the Vermont Department of Health, said the department has reviewed a significant amount of material, including information from "people who are concerned about smart meters."

"Our position is based upon a literature review that we were asked to conduct by the state and a collection of measurements that we obtained ourselves of actual smart meters in action, and inspection of equipment and review of specifications of Green Mountain Power and vendors of their equipment," he said.

According to Irwin, the devices do emit RFR, but the levels are largely immeasurable when more than three feet from the device.

"Smart meters aren't used like cell telephones. People don't experience the radio frequency radiation the same way," Irwin said. "Smart meters are fixed to the outside walls of structures and it's very unlikely people will be exposed to even measurable amounts of radio frequency radiation."

Smart meters do require continued study, however, according to Irwin, to continue to verify the information already gathered.

Critics have also complained of an "opt-out" fee, a $10 monthly charge for customers who choose to turn down a smart meter. Costello said the Public Service Board approved the charge to cover the cost of reading traditional electricity meters.

"It's not for opting out, it's for the cost of reading the meter," he said.

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