Opposition clear at Smart Meter presentation



Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Talk about the benefits of "Smart Meter" technology by power company representatives did not appear to go over well with a gathering of people who met late last week at the Bennington Free Library.

Darlene Kepler, customer care advocate for Central Vermont Public Service, and Brian Keefe, CVPS vice president of government and public affairs, addressed a Thusday night crowd of roughly 30 people who had questions about new wireless power meters that are expected to replace existing meters this year.

Keefe said the meters are being installed in Rutland now, and the Bennington area should see them in late winter or early spring. The devices use wireless technology to relay signals directly back to CVPS headquarters, giving the company the ability to read the meters in real time rather than rely on people in trucks to drive by and read them once a month. The devices will also tell the company when and where power outages occur.

"When your power goes out, we are going to know about it in real time," said Kepler.

Martine Victor, of Manchester, said the devices emit signals at such strength and frequency they pose a health risk. She added the wireless devices are more vulnerable to hacking, plus the $10 per month "opt out" fee is much greater than the $1.50 it costs a CVPS employee to read one meter, according to a state sponsored study on energy efficiency.

Keefe said the concerns raised about the health risks of smart meters are the same ones that have been raised about all other wireless technologies. He said it’s not uncommon to be standing in the midst of multiple wireless signals.

Keefe said he does not disagree with the $1.50 estimate, but that price reflects the fact that under current circumstances a meter reader looks at multiple meters when going through an area, thus lowering the individual cost of each.

Opt out a source of complaint

CVPS is offering customers the ability to opt out of the smart meter installation. The customer pays an opt out fee of $10 per month, or $120 a year.

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"We are very tight and honest about not providing your information to someone else," said Kepler.

Andy Crosier, who attended the meeting, said one of his issues with the smart meters is it will remove jobs in the form of people who go about reading them on a monthly basis. He questioned what effect that would have on the state’s tax base as well as other economic factors.

Keefe said the meter readers have know this was coming for a number of years and a phase out plan has been put in place. He said CVPS expects to lose some employees through retirements. The company also expects to save on not having to send trucks out as often as well as reduce emissions from those vehicles.

"I’m more concerned about the loss to our state in tax dollars and jobs," said Crosier. "I would like more data."

A number of people indicated they wanted the meters to do more. Paul Myers, of Peru, said the meters should be able to tell the customer how much power they are using, the cost, and do it in real time. According to Kepler, a customer has to call CVPS to get that information, or look at it online through their account. Keefe said raising the technology to the level Myers suggested would be cost prohibitive.

Myers also took issue with the "opt out" approach and said it should have been "opt in," so only people who wanted it would have it, and if it became popular more could sign up.

Kepler, in response to questions about changes to rates, said those with smart meters will see their power costs lower at night when demand is low. Those without get charged a daily flat rate. She said the meters will not cause rates to go down, but rates will not go up as high as they would without them.

According to Keefe, some customers will be able to take advantage of the lower rates at "off-peak" hours. For example, he said those with electric cars would be advised to charge them over night instead of late afternoon. He acknowledged, that for many people, there are not many options in this situation as the activities that use power are generally done during high-demand hours.

A number of people said they were not happy the project is in its final stages. Many felt there had been little warning and not enough public outreach. Keefe said this has been in the works since 2003 and has gone through proper state and federal channels, including the Vermont Public Service Board. He said CVPS has attended a number of public gatherings to explain the technology.

Arla Foster, of Bennington, expressed dismay the meeting was only an hour long, and felt her and others’ questions had not been answered to the fullest extent. CVPS has been referring people to its Website, which has a special section on smart meters providing information about them.

The event was sponsored by the Bennington County Regional Commission.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com


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