MARLBORO -- The Marlboro Energy Committee is hosting a discussion tonight on Vermont's new energy transmission system, which will eventually allow consumers to make choices on when and how they access power in their homes.
The so-called smart grid system includes high tech meters that relay information to the power company, and representatives from Green Mountain Power and Central Vermont Public Service will be in Marlboro tonight to give information and answer questions about the system.
The meeting will start at 7 p.m. in the Marlboro Elementary School.
Marlboro Town Energy Coordinator Kip Tewksbury said the energy committee called the meeting to allow Marlboro residents to learn about the benefits of the new system, and talk with company representatives about the future plans once the system is fully installed.
"People don't understand it and are suspicious and think it is an invasion of privacy," Tewksbury said. "We thought it would be a good idea to have a forum and invite the townspeople out to get them up to date and ask questions."
GMP and CVPS, Vermont's two largest electric utilities which are in the process of merging, are installing digital meters on every customer's property that will transmit information back to the company.
Eventually customers will be able to go online to monitor their energy use and also see when energy prices are lower so they can decide when to run more energy intensive
Some opponents have raised issues about the health effects of the meters, saying they emit harmful radio waves, while privacy advocates argue that the electronic data system can be hacked or give the companies, or law enforcement, access to private information.
Melinda Humphrey, from CVPS, and Dorothy Schnure from GMP, are both scheduled to speak at the information session tonight.
While the Marlboro Energy Committee has taken an official stand on the technology, Tewksbury said the benefits seem to outweigh the potential adverse effects.
He said customers can save money, and companies, in turn, could potentially purchase less energy if people are using the energy more efficiently.
"It seems like the concept makes a great deal of sense," he said. "They have been talking about doing something like this for several years and now they have the technology to do it."
Tewksbury said people opposed to smart meters were not invited to tonight's discussion, though he hopes residents who are skeptical of the technology will come out to get answers from the company representatives.
"We didn't see this as a debate," he said. "We thought the first step would be to get the information from the power companies. We suspect some of the anti-people will ask questions and if we need to follow it up with another discussion we can do that."
Most of the customers in Marlboro already have the meters, Schnure said in an interview Wednesday, though the Legislature this year included a provision in the energy bill that allows customers to opt out, or have the smart meters removed, without a charge.
Schnure said the companies have been traveling throughout the state to talk with customers about the new technology.
"When we started doing this work, we said from the start that we wanted to make sure we were informing the community what we were doing," Schnure said. "We love to talk about this. We want to keep people informed."
She said about 96 percent of the customers in Windham County have the new meters.
The company expects to have the state covered by early 2013, and the company will be bringing its new online system to customers throughout the rest of the year.
Schnure said the new system will also improve reliability by giving workers more accurate information when there is a line down, especially when there is a line down in a remote area.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer .com, or 802-254-2311 ext. 279.