PA-Borough addresses new meter concerns

Ephrata Review

Borough addresses new meter concerns

By on May 10, 2017
Charles Adkins, of NexGen Utility Solutions checks the newly installed unit. The entire process takes about one minute. Photo by Missi Mortimer

Since early April, Ephrata Borough staff have been switching out existing analog electric meters on residential homes to new advanced meters, which are more efficient when recording electric usage.

But some residents don’t want the new automated meters because they are concerned the RF frequency emitted by the meters, similar to radio waves, could cause health problems.

The new meters will be read via radio frequency, and will have a greater reliability than the older type of meter, according to Borough Manager D. Robert Thompson.

Although the new meters reportedly emit less RF waves than a cell phone, a number of people have expressed concerns about that aspect of the meter, Thompson told borough council.

Monday evening, council passed an ordinance giving residential service electric customers the opportunity to apply for a waiver so they could keep existing meters which would continue to be read manually.

“For those in opposition to RF frequency, this will give them an opportunity to opt out,” Thompson said.

Susan Rowe, borough president, was the only dissenting vote for the ordinance.

“I’m not opposed to letting people exempt out (of the RF meters) but this is a state regulation (the installation of more efficient meters),” Rowe said.

She questioned if Ephrata Borough could legally allow some people to continue to use the analog meters, and said it is possible that installation of the more efficient meters could become a federal law.

At this time, only about a dozen borough residents have complained about the new meters.

Installation of the advanced meters should be complete by the end of June, when 6,700 households will have them in place.

There are no additional costs to homeowners for the advanced meters, Thompson said.

While the RF signal has less ionizing radiation than a cell phone, the meters don’t emit a constant RF signal, either, Thompson said.

They flash on, assess meter recordings, and turn off; a pattern done several times a day.

The radio waves from the meters only have a four-meter radius of influence, Thompson said, so the RF frequency dissipates before it reaches a person standing about 12 feet from the meter.

At last week’s borough meeting, Rowe supplied information about ionizing radiation to explain RF waves associated with the new advanced electric meters.

It’s unlikely that a “smart meter” can increase cancer risk, according to information from the American Cancer Society, Rowe said.

Ionizing radiation (like RF waves) can produce heat, but cannot damage DNA directly, Rowe said.

Because the meter’s antenna is outside the home, the house walls and the extra distance from the antenna can reduce or even eliminate RF exposure, she said.

Council Vice president Thomas Reinhold said it was time to go with the advanced meters.

“We’ll have more information at our fingertips to run the utility more effectively,” Reinhold said.

When the new automatic system is completely installed, the demand for meter-readers will be reduced, Thompson said, a fact that should hold down costs.

Before the new meters are installed, customers are receiving notification of the upcoming change by automated calls.

The impact of the few people who want to opt out of the advanced meters would be negligible, Thompson said, explaining that charges would not be passed onto rate payers who have the advanced meters.


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