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Will Smart Meters Be Stopped in Worcester?

Thursday, December 12, 2013


The rollout of wireless electric meters continues to face opposition in Worcester and across the United States.

Criticism of the smart grid pilot program in Worcester has postponed public hearings on a final wireless tower as National Grid says it continues to look at alternative siting for the new infrastructure.

Does Worcester want smart meters?

“I think it's a stalling tactic,” said Tim Sullivan, a resident whose property abuts an electrical substation on Tory Fort Lane where a wireless tower was initially planned. “What does National Grid have to do with telecommunications?”

Opponents say utility companies have used the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to undermine local communities' ability to block new towers. In addition to not being a good neighbor, through five years of construction at that substation, Sullivan said he had health and cost concerns with the changeover to wireless meters.

National Grid spokesperson Deborah Drew said the city Zoning Board of Appeals had requested additional information recently that the company was not prepared for by the Dec. 2 meeting. “We are preparing that for the (board) and we will appear at the next meeting in January,” she reported Wednesday.

The smart grid pilot program in Worcester plans to include 15,000 customers, who'll be the first in the state to adopt the wireless metering technology.


A national effort underway to modernize the electrical grid, fueled by billions of federal dollars (2009's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act appropriated $4.5 billion for grid modernization, with $3.4 billion of that designated for smart grid investments), an October report by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission found a penetration rate of advanced meters of approximately 30 percent nationwide, or almost 46 million.

The advanced meters give power companies a clearer picture of energy use and outages, enabling them to restore service more quickly after storms and better meeting demands on the grid. (The regulatory commission's report noted quicker responses to outages in 2012 including after Hurricane Sandy in Maryland and the District of Columbia.)

Consumers meanwhile are promised future access to more complex and detailed data about their energy use, allowing them to conserve during peak periods and reduce usage. Future rate plans can charge higher rates during peak times and lower rates during off-hours.

Smart grid technology is also seen as better accommodating plug-in electric vehicles and home renewable energy sources including solar power systems and wind turbines.

But the so-called “smart meters” — particularly ones that transmit information wirelessly along radio wave frequencies akin to a cellphone or residential Wi-Fi router — have their critics.


“There's a difference between the smart grid and the smart meter,” said Sullivan.

Opponents of wireless meters, in Massachusetts and other states, cite possible health risks and privacy concerns — in addition to the cost of implementation.

“I feel it's being pushed as a green issue — and it's more a profit issue,” Sullivan said. “They're spending a fortune, and it's only a pilot project.”

Patricia Burke, a Bay State resident who suffers from electromagnetic hypersensitivity, says the nation is on a “very dangerous trajectory.”

“It's such a huge issue, because it's our whole relationship with wireless technology,” Burke said. Given higher limits on acceptable radio frequency levels here than abroad, “the chances are the U.S. is going to have a more serious problem.”

Stop Smart Meters In Massachusetts is a statewide group organized against the wireless meters in the Bay State. Local activist Steve Quist meanwhile has organized Worcester residents against the rollout.


National Grid response

Drew called the Worcester pilot National Grid's “flagship” program in the state.

“This is a way to listen, test, and learn about emerging technologies and how we can benefit customers with a program that offers energy control, energy savings, and energy information,” she said.

National Grid has rolled out approximately 14,500 meters to customers to date, although the program doesn't fully launch until next year.

Previously responding to health and privacy concerns related to the wireless meters, Drew told GoLocal that the equipment used was in compliance with Federal Communications Commission guidelines and that the company would continue to comply with laws and regulations designed to protect consumer information.

The FCC, American Cancer Society, and World Health Organization have not found a causal relationship between radio frequency field exposure from consumer devices and harm to humans like cancer, although the issue continues to merit further study. (Electromagnetic hypersensitivity is not a recognized medical condition in the U.S.)

Pilot program still rolling out

On the Worcester's zoning board agenda for much of 2013, National Grid was seeking a new 80-foot lattice tower in place of an existing 55-foot wooden pole at the company's Tory Fort Lane substation.

An alternative is to erect a 90-foot-tall pole at a substation on Mill Street near Tatnuck Square. The improvements would install wireless antennas to transmit information to and from wireless meters in the area, and complete the current pilot program in the northwest part of the city.

Drew said concerns with the original Tory Fort site prompted National Grid to identify other sites. “Our testing confirmed the location at our Mill Street sub is situated such that it provides good communications to the devices we have planned for the area,” she said this week.

House bill 2926 introduced in this year's legislative session would give consumers the choice of wired or wireless meter, and require public utilities to obtain written consent before installing wireless meters on ratepayers' properties.

The measure would go further than similar approved restrictions in a half-dozen other states including neighboring Vermont, where residents are able to opt-out of having a wireless meter installed.


Related Slideshow: New England Communities With the Most Political Clout 2013

The Sunlight Foundation, in conjunction with Azavea, released data maps this week showing political contribution dollars to federal elections dating back to 1990 -- by county.

GoLocal takes a look at the counties in New England that had the highest per-capita contributions in the 2012 election cycle -- and talked with experts about what that meant for those areas in New Engand, as well as the candidates.  

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25. Merrimack County, NH

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $9.86

Total contributions: $1,447,713

Merrimack County is named after the Merrimack River and is home to the states capital, Concord. Merrimack County has a total area of 956 square miles and a population of 146,761.

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24. Cheshire County, NH

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $9.88

Total contributions: $759,209

Cheshire is one of the five original counties in New Hampshire and was founded in 1771. The highest point in Cheshire County is located at the top of Mount Monadnock, which was made famous by the poets Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

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23. Rockingham County, NH

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $9.96

Total contributions: $2,965,530

Rockingham has 37 communities and has a population of 297,820. Rockingham County also was home to the famous poet, Robert Frost

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22. Belknap County, NH

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $10.02

Total contributions: $604,512

Belknap County is one of the ten counties in New Hampshire and has a population of 60,327. It is located in the center of New Hampshire and the largest city is Laconia.

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21. Hampshire County, MA

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $10.41

Total contributions: $1,664,077

Hampshire County has a total area of 545 square miles and is located in the middle of Massachusetts. Hampshire County is also the only county to be surrounded in all directions by other Massachusetts counties.

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20. Barnstable County, MA

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $10.90

Total contributions: $2,348,541

Barnstable County was founded in 1685 and has three national protected areas. Cape Cod National Seashore is the most famous protected area within Barnstable County and brings in a high amount of tourists every year.

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19. Berkshire County, MA

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $12.49

Total contributions: $1,624,400

Berkshire County is located on the western side of Massachusetts and borders three different neighboring states. Originally the Mahican Native American Tribe inhabited Berkshire County up until the English settlers arrived and bought the land in 1724. 

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18. Essex County, MA

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $13.22

Total contributions: $9,991,201

Essex is located in the northeastern part of Massachusetts and contains towns such as Salem, Lynn, and Andover. Essex was founded in 1643 and because of Essex historical background, the whole county has been designated as the Essex National Heritage Area.

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17. Chittendon County, VT

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $13.86

Total contributions: $2,196,107

Chittenden has a population of 158,504, making it Vermont’s most populated county. Chittenden’s largest city is Burlington, which has about one third of Vermont’s total population.

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16. Lamoille County, VT

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $14.82

Total contributions: $369,854

Lamoille County was founded in 1835 and has a population of 24,958. The county has 464 square miles, of which 461 of them are land.

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15. Addison County, VT

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $15.49

Total contributions: $569,299

Located on the west side of Vermont, Addison County has a total area of 808 square miles. Addison's largest town is Middlebury, where the Community College of Vermont and Middlebury College are located.

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14. Newport County, RI

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $16.02

Total contributions: $1,214,26

Newport County is one of the five Rhode Island Counties and was founded in 1703. Just like Connecticut, none of Rhode Island counties have an any governmental functions.

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13. Cumberland County, ME

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $18.33

Total contributions: $5,205,507

Cumberland County has a population of 283,921 and is Maine’s most populated county. The county was named after the William, Duke of Cumberland, a son of King George II.

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12. Windsor County, VT

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $20.57

Total contributions: $1,156,149

Windsor County is the largest county in Vermont and consists of 971 square miles of land and 5 square miles of water.

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11. Bristol County, RI

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $20.91

Total contributions: $1,027,472

Bristol County has a population of 49,144 and is the third smallest county in the United States. Bristol County was originally apart of Massachusetts, but was transferred to Rhode Island in 1746.

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10. Grafton County, NH

Contributions, per capita, 2012 :$20.95

Total contributions: $1,868,739

With a population of 89,181, Grafton County is the second largest county in New Hampshire. Home of New Hampshire’s only national forest, White Mountain National Forest takes up about half of Grafton’s total area 

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9. Carrol County, NH

Contributions, per capita, 2012: 2012: $22.81

Total contributions: $1,012,10

Created in 1840, Carroll County has a population of 47,567. Carroll County was also named after Charles Carroll, the last surviving signer of the United States Declaration of Independence.

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8. LItchfield County, CT

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $22.86

Total contributions: $4,286,143

Although it is Connecticut’s largest county, Litchfield has the lowest population density in all of Connecticut. Since 1960 all Connecticut counties have no county government.

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7. Middlesex County, MA

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $32.81

Total contributions: $50,432,154

Middlesex County has a population of 1,503,085 and has been ranked as the most populous county in New England.  The county government was abolished in 1997, but the county boundaries still exists for court jurisdictions and other administrative purposes.

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6. Nantucket County, MA

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $33.41

Total contributions: $344,021

Nantucket County consists of a couple of small islands and is a major tourist destination in Massachusetts. Normally Nantucket has a population of 10,298, but during the summer months the population can reach up to 50,000.

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5. Norfolk County, MA

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $35.87

Total contributions: $24,459,854

Named after a county from England, Norfolk County is the wealthiest county in Massachusetts. As of 2011, Norfolk was ranked the 32nd highest income county in the United States. 

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4. Dukes County, MA

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $36.32

Total contributions: $618,960

Consisting of Martha’s Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands, Dukes County is one of Massachusetts’ top vacation spots. Originally Dukes County was apart New York, however it was transferred to Massachusetts on October 7, 1691.

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3. Suffolk County, MA

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $40.73

Total contributions: $30,323,537

Suffolk County has a population of 744,426 and contains Massachusetts’s largest city, Boston. Although Suffolk’s county government was abolished in the late 1900’s, it still remains as a geographic area.

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2. Knox County, ME

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $45.89

Total contributions: $1,820,410

Knox County was established on April 1st, 1860 and was named after American Revolutionary War General Henry Knox.  The county has a population of 39,668 and is the home of the Union Fair.

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1. Fairfield County, CT

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $55.65.  

Total contributions: $51,970,701 

In a population of 933,835, Fairfield County is the most densely populated county in Connecticut, and contains four of the state's largest cities -- Bridgeport, Stamford, Norwalk and Danbury.


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