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Smart meters have been a big issue in Woodstock throughout recent years, filling this publication’s letters pages, creating a cause célèbre when a local resident replaced his Central Hudson meter with an older analog one and got his power shut off, and finally the Woodstock town board passed a unanimous prohibition of the devices in town in the spring of 2013 (though acknowledging that is likely lacked the power to enforce such a ban.)
It turns out, now, that Central Hudson — the main electrical provider within Woodstock — created an “opt out” category for its customers last October. And according to CH spokesman John Maserjian, that option was publicized “as a notice in local newspapers” and an info sheet “provided to customers when we change their meters.”
Smart meters are technically, in Central Hudson’s case, Encoder Receiver Transmitters (ERTs), a technology that uses “a low-power radio signal to communicate with hand-held receivers carried by meter readers.” It’s a first step, many say, towards an even smarter meter prototype used throughout much of Europe and Canada (barring British Columbia) that reportedly enables utility companies to tailor the supply of electricity to the measured level of demand at a time when power is increasingly provided by renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind installations and is meant to lower waste and provide savings.
According to the new CH info sheet, “The ERT meters deployed by Central Hudson are approved for use by the New York State Public Service Commission and meet or exceed Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and American National Standards Institute (ANSI) safety requirements. However, for those who would prefer to not have this type of meter installed, Central Hudson offers an opt-out program to residential customers. Some restrictions apply, for example those who wish to participate in our net-metering program are not eligible for this opt-out provision.”
The actual “Opt Out” involves replacement of an analog meter, which is no longer manufactured or supported by the companies that made them, for nine years now, with a digital meter. Plus a $6 per month charge for use of the non-ERT meter, to pay for the extra cost involved in reading such meters according to Maserjian, as well as larger one-time costs should an already-installed ERT meter need to be replaced with a non-ERT digital version.
The present Opt Out provisions were first discussed in a rate change letter that Central Hudson filed with the state Public Service Commission last summer.
Maserjian added that to date, Central Hudson is not changing over all its meters, as occurred in several other countries once analog meters were discontinued, but on a random basis when they go in to “provide testing.” To date, one third of CH’s approximately 300,000 electrical meters are ERT, he added.
Woodstock councilman Ken Panza, who alerted Woodstock Times and the town board of the new Opt Out option, first started studying the issue of smart meters before the Woodstock town board moratorium on them was passed. He followed up complaints regarding illnesses purportedly caused by the devices with research that looked into the suggestion that the levels of radiofrequency radiation emitted by smart meters may be associated with the development of disorders ranging from headaches to heart problems and joint pain in individuals unusually sensitive to such radiation.
As for the effectiveness of Central Hudson’s offer, the councilman noted in a recent email, “For those suffering detrimental health effects because of electromagnetic sensitivity, the ERT meter opt-out offering should provide relief. If the suffering continues after the ERT meter is removed, then perhaps the ERT meter was not the source of their problems.” He continued, “I think you should view ERT meter opt-out as a positive offering which will be welcomed by those suffering the health effects caused by EMF from an ERT meter.”
But Raji Nevin, a Woodstock citizen, in one of a series of letters to this paper (see Feedback, Page 20) berated the Central Hudson opt out option even more strongly, noting that, “all digital utility meters (including the so-called ‘Opt Out’ meter that Central Hudson is currently offering) are emitting pulsing microwave radiation. These meters drastically increase levels of dirty electricity being pulled into your home/business. The only safe utility meter is a mechanical analog meter. An ‘Opt Out’ is not acceptable.”
The Woodstock Smart Meter Forum, a group opposing the use of the devices, also maintains a monthly presence, holding regular meetings at the Woodstock Library. The group can be reached at 679-8111.
They call for keeping analog readers, no matter what the company that owns them says. And no matter that the manufacturers will no longer support them.
Central Hudson’s answer?
“The digital meters have no signals whatsoever,” he said. “We addressed this issue and stand by all we discussed earlier.”
As for the numbers of people opting out since the option was first offered last fall… Maserjian said that to date the numbers were “less than 20.”