The head of Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) has published an almost giddy opinion piece, distributed statewide in support of the controversial wireless “smart meters” currently being installed in Vermont. Appearing in various media over the past few days, the piece prompted immediate rebuttal from two state legislators and others.
In her op-ed posted on VTDigger on June 28, Deborah Markowitz, Secretary of ANR since January 2011, discussed her notification that she would soon get a smart meter at her home. Using language like a power company brochure, she wrote: “I can’t wait! With a smart meter we’ll be able to track our electricity use more accurately (particularly important with a house full of teenagers) and help us save money.”
The first comment on her piece, by Scott Garren who already has his smart meter, disputed this rosy outlook, writing: “… there is no useful information from the damn thing at all…. There are no dials to read and no instructions on what the inscrutable display on the device means.”
Markowitz also wrote, “But what really excites me and other environmentalists about the smart meter is that it is the technological innovation needed to enable us to integrate more renewable energy into our system and reduce our contributions to global warming.”
Also taking issue with Markowitz’s cheerleading style was Bennington County State Senator Bob Hartwell, who led the effort in the legislature this year to slow the smart meter bandwagon and to give all Vermonters the choice of not having a smart meter, at no cost to the customer. The Legislature passed this opt-out provision into law earlier this spring.
Hartwell countered Markowitz by saying, “All consumers should take a hard look at smart meters; they pose serious threats to privacy and not a single advocate has shown any concern about health hazards…. This is a system poorly thought through and designed only for the benefit of the utilities.”
Markowitz does not address health or privacy issues, but rather kvells about how the “smart grid uses wireless meters and computer technology” to integrate renewable energy sources into the electric grid, to allow utilities to charge variable rates, to create “the fully web-connected smart home,” and to establish “an electric vehicle network across the Northeast.”
Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) is “the state agency with primary responsibility for protecting Vermont’s environment, natural resources and wildlife.” The ANR website has a year-old promotion of “Vermont’s Smart Grid” that elaborates on the goals Markowitz supports, especially the conversion of the state to predominantly electric car use, since roughly half of Vermont’s greenhouse gasses come from automotive transportation. The piece ends with the suggestion that you “contact your local utility” for more information.
The ANR article also touts the Vermont Electric Cooperative for leading the way in installing smart meters in their customers’ homes. It does not point out that the Coop installed wired meters, not wireless ones – or that the wired/wireless distinction is a significant fault line in the debate about implementing the smart grid.
This faultline is underlined in a comment by Matt Fisken, discussing the non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation (EMR) that is a source of major health concerns about which there is little conclusive scientific research. As Fisken puts it, Vermont’s major utilities “still do not know, or will admit they know what pulsed RF radiation [EMR] is. Here’s a GMP (Elster REX2) meter that is transmitting almost constantly for 5 minutes. “ showing a smart meter being measured by a Cornet Electrosmog meter]
“Can the environmentalists clearly explain why they want this many random pulses of 915 Mhz ISM RF radiation filling the air in and around their homes? What are the benefits?” Fisken asks.
Of the first nine comments on the ANR Secretary’s pitch for smart meters, two defended the initiative. One was Kevin Jones of the Vermont Law School and recipient of a $450,000 federal grant to support the smart grid, although he did not mention these connections.
Jones begins by saying, “I respectfully disagree with Senator Hartwell’s unsubstantiated criticisms of Smart Meters (sic).” Jones does not specify what criticisms he means, nor does he offer substantive rebuttal to Hartwell’s concerns.
On privacy, Jones says, “Privacy in Vermont will not be threatened,” in effect, because the state and utilities won’t allow it.
On health, Jones relies on a hypothetical, moral balancing argument in which none of the premises are demonstrable: he argues that the smart grid is justified by the “many lives saved by reducing air pollution which to me seems to far outweigh any undocumented health effects from meter radio frequency radiation which is well below what a personal cell phone emits.”
Nor did Jones address the concern about electric rates raised by State Representative Cynthia Browning of Arlington, who sees the investment in “smart “ technology as something customers will end up paying for whether it saves any money or not.
“We will need to keep careful track of what the utilities, the Department of Public Service, and the Public Service Board do with rates so that if the anticipated cost reductions do not materialize the utilities cannot shift the costs of their poor business plan onto ratepayers, as we know they have done in the past.”