The meter reader has gone the way of the milkman and the bread man — in some communities, "smart meters" wirelessly report your energy or water consumption back to the utility company. But fear of electric impulses transmitted by the devices has led to a consumer call for choice.
Digital smart meter technology has been around since the 1990s, but opposition has grown worldwide. Critics of the technology claim the radio emissions cause a variety of human health problems.
The issue has become a full-blown controversy in the Hudson Valley. In December, the Ulster County Legislature adopted a resolution urging the state legislature to bar electric companies from making it compulsory for customers to use the new meters when residents complained they suffered health problems after the new meters were installed at their homes.
Both the New York State Public Service Commission and the Federal Communications Commission assure consumers that the meters currently being used by Central Hudson are safe. Central Hudson spokesman John Maserjian says the new meters are being installed by the Mid-Hudson region’s primary utility because the analog meters on most homes are obsolete and no longer manufactured. "It's a required time test. Where we ensure that meters are operating accurately. We actually remove the old meters and replace them with the new digital meters. Test the old meters o make sure that they were working properly. But because the analog style meters are no longer produced, we can't put them back out in the field."
Opponents of the technology claim the devices can track household habits including how many times a day the refrigerator is opened, when people are watching television and how often they power computers and other electronic devices on and off, a trove of information that can be sold to marketing companies.
Poughkeepsie resident Marta Knapp spoke before Dutchess County legislators, arguing smart meter technology has many detrimental effects on human health. "Sleep disturbance, nausea, dizziness, headaches, sharp head pain, head pressure, high-pitched ringing in the ears. Heart palpitations, chest pain, agitation, anxiety, irritability, stress, brain fog, forgetfulness, behavioral changes (children are strongly affected). Leg cramps, fatigue, physical weakness, mini strokes, cancer, Parkinson's type symptoms. There are also privacy issues."
Longtime Woodstock resident Steve Romine and his girlfriend Raji Nevin swear all of their health problems cleared up after Central Hudson cut the wires to their house several months ago. They ran afoul of the utility after replacing the company smart meter with an old style analog model they purchased online. "When we removed that from our house, Raji's symptoms of nausea, dizziness, vertigo and headaches went away. My severe neck pain I had for a year and a half just as long as that meter was on the house, completely went away."
Romine says pulses of radio energy emanated by the smart meters damage the human body. Nevin sides with those who believe the initiative to install the meters is driven by money.
This week, the Dutchess County Legislature voted to strongly push state lawmakers to pass bills pending in the New York Senate and Assembly that would allow electric customers to "opt out" of smart meter programs. John Maserjian says Central Hudson is taking a pro-active stance. "Because some of our customers have expressed concern, we are considering working with the New York State Public Service Commission in offering an opt out for these meters. More on that in coming months. We are looking to see what we might be able to do in order to offer our customers an alternative."
Masserjian has ruled out any form of analog meter as a viable alternative. The Dutchess County Legislature also voted to send the resolution to the state Health Department "for further examination on the potential side effects of smart meters." Smart meters are used by many utilities across the Northeast. In Massachusetts, Westfield Gas and Electric recently began installing he devices for its customers. WG&E's media liaison was not available for comment.
Western Massachusetts Electric Company is reportedly exploring the possibility of installing "smart meters."