The Mountain Times

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Perspective: Head Environmentalist “can’t wait” for smart meters

Dear Editor,

The head of Vermont's Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) almost giddy opinion piece in support of the controversial wireless "smart meters" currently being installed in Vermont, prompted immediate rebuttal from two state legislators and others.

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."

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."

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 and the affects on health are unknown.

One of Markowitz's vocal defenders of this initiative has been 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.

Vermont's Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) is "the state agency with primary responsibility for protecting Vermont's environment, natural resources and wildlife."

"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."

Tagged: Letter to the Editor, Smart Meters