Smart meters: Bill puts indefinite hold on opt-out feesAlbert J. Marro / Staff Photo
A CVPS smart meter is attached to a residence on Patricia Lane in Rutland Town.
Vermonters concerned about having smart meters installed on their homes and businesses won’t have to worry about paying an opt-out fee.
The Legislature passed a bill just before the end of the session that indefinitely prohibits utilities from charging an opt-out fee to customers who don’t want the wireless digital meters. Gov. Peter Shumlin is expected to sign the legislation.
The state’s utilities, including Central Vermont Public Service Corp. and Green Mountain Power Corp., are installing the meters as part of an effort to improve reliability and better manage the state’s energy use.
But some customers have objected to the meters, citing health and privacy concerns.
“We see this as a big win for Vermonters. Now anyone concerned about these meters for any reason can opt out without fear of what it is going to do to his or her wallet,” said Jesse Mayhew, manager for the Wake Up Opt Out Campaign, in a statement. “Over the course of the last several months many Vermonters contacted their legislators and made their position known; opt-out fees were simply inappropriate.”
The bill also directs the state Health Department and Department of Public Service to conduct an independent study on the possible health effects of the meters. The deadline to submit the study’s findings to the Legislature is Jan. 15.
The new meters use radio frequencies to send information about electricity use back to the utility, eliminating the need for meter readers.
CVPS will spend an estimated $63 million on its SmartPower project, including the installation of 180,000 wireless meters.
A $69 million federal grant awarded to the state’s 20 utilities will pay for half the estimated $140 million cost of smart grid deployment.
CVPS spokesman Steve Costello said the ban on opt-out fees does not create any issues for the utility.
He also said CVPS has in place a two-step notification process before a wireless meter is installed on a customer’s home or business.
The concern for CVPS is that if too many ratepayers opt out and continue to have their meters read manually, it would reduce the effectiveness of the smart meters to manage the utility’s power usage.
However, Costello said the utility “feels fairly confident that the vast majority of customers will embrace this technology.”
He cited a list of benefits including a reduction in carbon emissions, improved reliability and response to power outages “as well as providing tools to customers to help them reduce their own personal (utility) bill.”
The Public Service Board had already ordered the state’s utilities to delay imposing opt-out fees until April 2013. But S.214 places the fees on hold indefinitely.
CVPS and GMP were planning to charge customers who didn’t want a smart meter $10 a month.
Public Service Commissioner Elizabeth Miller said the bill passed by lawmakers was a fair compromise and that the department supported ratepayers’ choice to opt out for any reason.
Miller also doubted that the legislation will affect the number of advanced meters installed on homes and businesses.
“The new system of advanced meters will allow for better service and will also help Vermonters manage their electric usage, and I believe those benefits will be widely embraced,” Miller said in an email.
The Legislature heard conflicting testimony this session on the possible health effects of radiation emitted by smart meters.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen told lawmakers in January that the meters emit less than 1 percent of the radiation emitted by cellphones.
But Cindy Sage, a California-based environmental consultant, warned the Senate Finance Committee that the piggy-backing effects of emissions from wireless devices are unknown.
The bill also contains a provision that allows consumers who already have a smart meter to have it removed at no cost.
The text of the final legislation can be found at www.wakeupoptout.org.
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