SHEFFIELD -- Aside from the typical annual town meeting fare -- the budget, spending for a new police car and highway truck -- Shef field voters also will decide on an issue brought by a group of concerned citizens: Smart meters.

A group of residents successfully petitioned to have an article placed on tonight's warrant calling for a moratorium on smart meters, which relay information on residential power consumption to utility companies.

Utility companies would receive information on power consumption via an electromagnetic signal in 15-minute intervals, eliminating the need to send out mobile units in vehicles with antennas to collect the same information.

While smart meters don't yet exist in the Berkshires, some people are concerned the technology may cause health problems and invade personal privacy.

Nina Anderson, president of The Scientific Alliance For Education, which filed the petition, said the moratorium also would prevent the appearance of unattractive utility poles and antennas.

"Sheffield doesn't have many cell towers, hospital cell arrays or cell towers in [church] steeples so we would be subject to poles and antennas as they need a line of sight," Anderson stated in an e-mailed response.

National Grid, the electricity provider for Sheffield, has allowed individual homes to opt-out of the two-year pilot program it is conducting in Worcester. The moratorium would allow the entire Shef field community to opt out.

A National Grid spokesman described smart meters as benign but more efficient than the electrical meters that are being replaced -- and a possible tool to promote a more energy-efficient future.

"We've exercised a lot of care in this," said William Jones, director of smart energy solutions for the utility, who addressed the issue at a Selectmen's meeting.

During the meeting, Jones acknowledged the Worcester program -- not expected to formally start until October -- has resulted in some additional hardware to relay the communication signal.

But he also added smart meters wouldn't be considered for widespread commercial usage until at least September 2016, leaving open the possibility of technology advancements.

The pilot program still needs to prove that it is more cost-efficent than the current system, he said.

"I can't project where the pilot project would go, but there will be a conversation whether there is value for the state to move forward," Jones said.

Addressing the health concerns, Jones said National Grid has tested the safety of the transmitted data. He said the electromagentic signal used to transmit electrical use is lower than most household appliances and cellphones.

The Sheffield Annual Town Meeting will begin at 7 p.m. tonight at Mount Everett Regional High School.

To reach John Sakata:
jsakata@berkshireeagle.com
or (413) 496-6240.
On Twitter: @jsakata