Will Worcester Residents Be Forced To Adopt Smart Meters?
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
The Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) system is a big part of the smart grid project, allowing for two-way communication between the meter and customers, utility companies, and even smart appliances. Although a huge technological breakthrough, providing consumers an opportunity to monitor and better control their energy usage, many are still opposed to the idea of this smart technology.
“The AMI system makes me nervous; I don’t want that junk,” said Peggy Patton, a member of activist group haltMAsmartmeters.org. “They are unsafe and could potentially cause fires. There are huge health concerns due to radiation. There also is no privacy; they know when you are home and what you are doing when you are there.”
Patton is openly opposed to all digital metering technologies, including the Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) system. An older system, the AMR differs from the AMI because it operates using only one-way communication. Its primary function is to allow for utility companies to read the meters faster by transmitting the usage data to the company.
Patton recalls when NSTAR, her local electrical company, began installing the AMR systems in her neighborhood. Although she talked to the company and showed displeasure in the system, eventually she was forced to comply.
“Several years ago, NSTAR began installing AMR systems in my area and I was opposed,” said Patton. “After two failed attempts to install the AMR system while I was home, NSTAR came to my house one week while I was away and installed it anyway. I called up the next day, but it appeared to me that they could care less.”
When reached out for comment, Mike Durand, a media contact for NSTAR, stated that the AMR systems have been used by NSTAR for the past 20+ years. Due to NSTAR using the AMR system as their industry standard, there is currently no opt out policy.
“AMR is the industry standard; it’s just what we use,” said Durand. “The system uses radio technology from 40 years ago. As far as I know, we haven’t received a single complaint about AMR systems.”
Will There Be a Charge?
The AMI system is just the latest trend in smart technology taking over all facets of the consumer’s day-to-day lives, but will it follow in the AMR system’s footsteps by becoming the industry standard? Without an opt out policy, consumers will ultimately be forced to decide between a system that they don’t want and having no electricity at all.
National Grid - the utility company who has been working on the smart grid system for Worcester - says that the AMI systems are currently installed and that if a customer so desires, they can opt out of the pilot program at no additional charge by contacting customer service. Of the nearly 15,000 customers covered by the pilot area, around 1,000 have already opted out of the program.
“We have been actively communicating with customers about the program since its beginning,” said Deborah Drew, a spokesperson for National Grid. “Customers in the program area were sent letters, had door hangers and were informed about meter installations. There also were many news articles on the program.”
National Grid may be offering customers an opportunity to opt out for free now, but what about in the future when the smart grid program really takes off? According to docket D.P.U. 13-83, National Grid has already petitioned to propose tariffs for installation or reinstallation of non-AMR systems as well as a reading fee for customers who choose to not use the AMR system. The docket states that the installation or reinstallation fee would be $26, while the monthly reading fee would be $11.
Although this applies to AMR systems more specifically than the newer AMI systems, it still shows that the company no longer wants to carry analog metering systems. Activist groups, including haltMAsmartmeters.org, feel as though it is only a matter of time before National Grid and other companies petition for harsher tariffs, forcing customers to choose between the smart grid program or no electricity at all.
Whether or not National Grid, or other companies who decide to adopt the smart grid system in the future, choose to allow their customers to opt out of the system - whether for free, a fee, or not at all - is up for debate. Although the issue of opting out is rising to prominence, one bill can require utility companies to allow for customers to opt out of smart grid systems.
The bill, H.2926, would be an amendment allowing for customers to choose which metering option would go on their home, allowing for customers to choose options that do not emit radio frequency electromagnetic radiation, even if that means removing a newer technology in favor of an older one.
H.2926, which some are calling the Opt Out Bill, would also require written consent by the ratepayer in order to install an AMI system, as well as prohibiting utility companies from offering disincentives to ratepayers for not making the transition to an AMI system. The bill also points out that installation and use of AMI systems are not currently mandated by state or federal law.
The bill, which is currently in the hands of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy, must be acted upon by March 19th. The committee will ultimately decide on whether the bill moves on to the next phase or if it will die in the committee.
“This week is crucial [in regards to H.2926],” said Burke. “We really don’t want this bill to die. In other states, it wasn’t until after the system was installed that the communities realized how important an opt out policy was.”
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