'Smart meters' spark resistance


SHEFFIELD - A national movement toward replacing electrical meters with "smart meters" has met a pocket of early resistance in Sheffield.

A Sheffield-based nonprofit, The Scientific Alliance for Education, has launched a campaign to raise information about smart meters, which track electrical energy consumption and uses two-way communications to relay real-time information on consumption to utility companies.

Proponents of smart meters say its a tool that will lead to better efficiency and tracking of energy consumption that will promote a more sustainable pattern of energy use. But opponents say the technology poses problems related to health, invades personal privacy and opens the door to higher electricity costs during peak hours.

"What we are trying to do is say what the power companies aren't saying, here's what they are omitting, and this is what we found - then you can make your own decision," said Nina Anderson, president of The Scientific Alliance for Education.

In Western Massachusetts, most households still rely on electrical meters rather than smart meters. However, a state-led push under the Green Communities Act requiring utilities to conduct a smart grid pilot could lead to more widespread adoption.

Smart grids, which will often include smart meters, uses information technology and advanced communication to gather and act on user information related to users energy consumption.

While smart meters haven't found their way to the Berkshires, Anderson said she's trying to educate residents early about concerns that have been compiled. The nonprofit founded in 1993 is inviting members of the public to the Sheffield Library on Friday at 7:30 p.m. to watch the movie, "Take Back Your Power" about smart meters.

Anderson, who opted out of having a smart meter in her home, said she is sensitive to electromagnetic waves, a condition serious enough that she's limited the number of home appliances. She said exposure to electromagnetic waves contributes to headaches, ringing in her ears, stomach aches and a weakened immune system.

Anderson said the smart meters are also an intrusion on her privacy.

Public utility companies National Grid and Western Massachusetts Electric both said they have not adopted smart meters in Berkshire County. National Grid has a pilot program in Worcester, which has attracted negative attention in part because of communication poles that are being erected to support the infrastructure. In an e-mailed statement, National Grid spokeswoman Deborah Drew said that she is aware of health and security concerns, but she assured the technology is safe.

The electromagnetic signal is a particular concern, but she said the Federal Communications Commission requires that all wireless communications devices in the United States meet minimum guidelines for safe and human exposure to radio frequency energy.

"The nearly 15,000 smart meters that were installed by National Grid last year are in complete compliance," Drew wrote about the company's pilot program in Worcester.

The smart meters expose a signal that is less than common appliances, she said.

"They operate outside, the signal is intermittent and it operates at frequencies considerably lower than appliances and devices we use on a daily basis," she added.

Western Massachusetts Electric spokeswoman Priscilla Ress said the power company has no smart meters in its service territory.

Ress said public utility companies are being invited on Feb. 24 to a state hearing on the governor's initiative to modernize the electricity grid. The power company will await the hearing before taking any steps on smart meters.


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