Woodstock passes two smart meter measures
by Jun 13, 2015 • 6:30 am No Commentson
During a sometimes raucous standing-room-only meeting, the Woodstock Town Board passed two resolutions urging the Public Service Commission (PSC) to require Central Hudson to allow people to keep their analog meters in lieu of new digital meters many residents say are harmful.
Councilman Ken Panza had drafted a resolution demanding PSC action, but the group Stop Smart Meters Woodstock offered their own, claiming Panza’s version didn’t go far enough and was full of loopholes.
The board approved Panza’s version 3-1 and the Stop Smart Meters version unanimously.
Panza, Bill McKenna and Cathy Magarelli voted for Panza’s resolution. Councilman Jay Wenk was opposed. Supervisor Jeremy Wilber is on leave.
Many accused the Town Board of having made up its mind without listening to the will of the people, 800 of whom signed a petition in support of the alternative resolution.
“The elephant in the room is Central Hudson and they’re driving the town resolution,” said Weston Blelock of Stop Smart Meters Woodstock.
The issue came to the forefront recently when residents began complaining about the utility’s program that allows ratepayers to opt out of newer meters that transmit radio waves. While the new encoder receiver transmitter, or ERT meters make it easier for utility personnel to take readings, a number of people have complained they cause ill health effects and are especially harmful to children.
The opt-out meters offered by Central Hudson are digital, but do not transmit signals. Still, some claim the electronics emit electromagnetic fields that are harmful.
Central Hudson says analog meters, the kind with the spinning dials, are no longer made, requiring replacement with digital ones. Stop Smart Meters says companies are making refurbished models available.
“I like the Town Board and I wouldn’t want to think of you guys the same way as the Public Service Commission,” said Randi Steele, of Birds of a Feather Media, which runs Woodstock 104, WIOF, a local radio station, urging the board to act on the will of the people and pass the alternative resolution.
Nancy Butler-Ross said the board ignored the voice of 1,000 signatures on a petition when it voted last year to allow hunting in a limited area near Yankeetown Pond. She urged the board not to ignore the people this time.
Former County Legislature Chair Terry Bernardo, Republican from the town of Rochester, who has said she is running for County Executive, suggested an amendment urging support of a proposed state law called the New York State Utility Consumers Health, Safety and Privacy Protection Act, which would require utilities to replace an electronic meter with an analog model within one week of a request and at no charge.
“The New York State Legislature will trump the Public Service Commission,” said Bernardo, noting the agency would be bound to enforce state law.
Wenk offered the amendment, but the board tabled it to the June 16 meeting to make sure letters are sent to the proper officials in Albany.
Jay Cohen called for an act of civil disobedience, saying “the head of the snake” is Central Hudson. “We should get in front of the CEO of Central Hudson,” Cohen said.
Raji Nevin, who, along with Steve Romine, spent a considerable amount of time drafting the Stop Smart Meters resolution that calls for people’s right to keep an analog meter with no extra fees, pointed out that it also includes definitions, something they say is key to keeping the utility from taking advantage of loopholes. “Steve and I didn’t have to do any of this,” Nevin said. “We’re trying to help people.”
The two have been without Central Hudson power for about two and a half years since refusing to accept a digital meter on their home. In the past they have used power from a neighbor’s home and they also have a generator.
Nevin said there is a lot of focus on the opt-out fee, but it’s more than just that. A neighbor may decide to stick with the ERT meter rather than pay the monthly fee, subjecting other neighbors to ill health effects, she said. Without a fee, it’s easier to educate people, she explained.
Central Hudson charges a one-time meter change fee of $49, but only if an ERT meter is already installed. A fee of $6 per month for reading the meter is also charged.
Stop Smart Meters New York Director Michelle Hertz said the health problem is widespread. “I hear from people all across the state. Everywhere the smart meters are, people are getting sick,” Hertz said.
Woodstock passes two smart meter measures
by Jun 13, 2015 • 6:30 am 1 Commenton
Wenk applauded the alternative resolution, calling it “clear and cogent,” In contrast, he called Panza’s resolution “dense and turgid.” Wenk said the alternative resolution requires the utility to have a supply of analog meters, lays out clear timetables, requires notifications when a meter is changed and is endorsed by more than 800 people.
Councilwoman Cathy Magarelli supported both resolutions, saying they are not mutually exclusive. “I feel we all want to get a resolution for an opt-out meter without fees,” Magarelli said in her support for both. “I know some of you may not be happy with that.”
In similar comments, Councilman Bill McKenna voiced his support for both resolutions.
Deputy Supervisor Laura Ricci said she saw no conflicts in the resolutions, which are a call for action since the town has no authority in the matter. It is up to the Public Service Commission and state Legislature.
McKenna agreed. “Really all we’ve done is make a request. It’s in their hands now,” McKenna said.
Central Hudson responds
Both the transmitting and opt-out meters are deemed safe by the Federal Communications Commission and the Public Service Commission, said Central Hudson spokesman John Maserjian, who added the industry is moving to digital meters as a standard.
All meters, both ERT and non-ERT are designed to meet the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) specifications, he said.
When asked why the utility can’t just respond to the wishes of its customers and let them keep analog meters, Maserjian said supply is an issue. “We want to avoid using products or equipment that is no longer made and more difficult to obtain,” he said. “Meter readers are now able to read more meters in the course of a day. This improves our productivity. It reduces estimated bills.”
Central Hudson does not replace meters without notice and customers can keep their existing analog meter, but only until the company needs to test it as required by the PSC. After the test, called a time test, is completed, the meter is replaced with an ERT model unless the customer opts out, Maserjian said. “Before we conduct time test, we notify the customer by mail. The customer would have a month to make a decision.”
Just over a third, or 105,000 of 300,000 meters in Central Hudson’s service area have been converted to ERT in an initiative that began in the 1990s, Maserjian said. So far, just 22 customers are participating in the opt-out program.
While Central Hudson charges a one-time $49 fee to replace an ERT meter with an opt-out model, there is no charge if the customer opts out before their old analog meter is replaced. The fee is also waived in emergencies.
“If we have to replace a meter under emergency conditions we will make an attempt to contact the property owner,” Maserjian said. “If nobody is home we will install an ERT meter and leave a note. If customer decides to opt out, the change fee will be waived. Tests have concluded the electromagnetic energy emitted by opt-out meters are no different than their analog predecessors,” Maserjian said. Further, “dirty electricity” emitted from the meter’s switching transformer is no worse than that coming from modern appliances and electronics, he said.
A switching transformer drops down the voltage coming into the house by turning the current on and off several times per second. This creates high-frequency voltage transients, which some including Stop Smart Meters say is harmful. Maserjian said he is not aware of any negative health effects.
Older appliances and gadgets drop down the voltage through wire coils.
Despite claims to the contrary, Central Hudson says the ERT meters are not smart meters and it has no plans to install smart meters. Smart meters can transmit usage data through the power lines and in some cases, can power down appliances in the event of an impending blackout or brownout.
Through a new initiative called Renewing the Energy Vision, or REV, the PSC is looking at smart power grids, but right now, Central Hudson does not envision smart meters as part of that. The utility is currently focused on making improvements to its power distribution system, Maserjian said.
“We’re trying to improve meter reading without changing out the meters all at once,” Maserjian said. “We’re trying to be sensitive to the needs of our customers.”
More information about Central Hudson’s ERT meter rollout and application for an opt-out meter can be found at http://www.centralhudson.com/meters/ERTmeters.aspx.