By Nick Kotsopoulos TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
WORCESTER — A City Council subcommittee is calling for a one-year postponement in National Grid’s “smart grid” pilot program.
The three-member Public Service and Transportation Committee unanimously voted Wednesday night to ask National Grid, the state Department of Public Utilities and the city Zoning Board of Appeals to consider a one-year delay in the installation of any more smart meters and the construction of any communications towers associated with the program.
Committee members argued that a postponement is warranted because there are too many unanswered questions related to public health, security and privacy associated with the smart meter/grid program. Smart meters use wireless technology to track a customer’s electricity consumption.
District 5 Councilor Gary Rosen, who requested the delay, said National Grid would do the city and its residents well by “slowing down” the program so the council and city officials could have time to further look into issues that have been raised.
“National Grid should slow down the program,” Mr. Rosen said. “People in Worcester are being used as guinea pigs; smart meters are causing people health issues. Do right for the people of Worcester and look at all the concerns people have. Take a year off instead of trying to ram this down our throats.”
Some people have expressed fears about the possibly harmful effects of electromagnetic radiation from the new meters.
William Jones, National Grid’s director of its Smart Energy Solutions Program, told the committee the utility company has not ignored any of the concerns that have been raised. He said it has looked at the information to determine its validity and dealt with issues where appropriate.
Mr. Jones pointed out that more than 46 million smart meters have been installed throughout the United States.
He said roughly 14,800 smart meters have been installed in households throughout the city and National Grid expects to fully launch the two-year pilot program this fall.
“We don’t expect to seek to slow anything down,” Mr. Jones said.
National Grid is scheduled to go before the Zoning Board of Appeals on May 5 for two petitions in which it is seeking zoning relief to erect a specialized communications tower at one of two sites in the Tatnuck Square area as part of the smart grid pilot program.
One is at its Cooks Pond substation, at 30 Tory Fort Lane in the middle of a residential neighborhood, while the other is at 597 Mill St., in the heart of the Tatnuck Square commercial district.
Mr. Jones said National Grid is also looking at two opportunities in the Tatnuck area as an alternative, but more testing needs to be done to determine their feasibility. He said that testing cannot be completed until the foliage comes out.
The tower in the Tatnuck area is considered the final piece to the puzzle for National Grid’s smart grid program.
More than 35 people attended the committee hearing, with several voicing concerns about the smart grid program.
Their concerns focused on the impact to public health, privacy and security. People in the Tory Fort Lane area also objected to the siting of the proposed 80-foot-high communications towers, with a 10-foot-high antenna atop it, at the Cooks Pond substation.
Councilor-at-Large Morris A. Bergman said he fears the cost of the pilot program will lead to higher electricity costs for Worcester residents. That, in turn, will make Worcester a less attractive place for people to live.
“What bothers me is that we’re being subjected to (the smart grid program) in Worcester and that isn’t the case in other communities,” Mr. Bergman said. “We seem to be a guinea pig for a program that no one knows what the end result will be.”
Councilor-at-Large Konstantina B. Lukes, committee chairman, said if National Grid is going to go forward with the pilot program she would like to see it put up some kind of a bond to pay for any liability incurred by the city or its residents related to impacts from the smart meters.
“Back in the 1950s, the tobacco industry told Congress there was no health impact from smoking, but look what ended up happening,” she said. “I feel the same way when it comes to smart meters; there’s simply not enough data to answer serious questions that have been raised.”
The smart meter/grid pilot program was National Grid’s response to the state’s Green Communities Act of 2008.
Mr. Jones said Worcester was chosen for its pilot program because National Grid thought it was “a microcosm of our larger state footprint.”
Contact Nick Kotsopoulos at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NCKotsopoulos