Vermont report finds no smart meter danger

Thursday January 24, 2013

MONTPELIER -- A new state report concludes that smart meters that utilities give customers to measure power consumption and save energy emit far less potentially harmful material than considered safe by the Federal Communications Commission.

Some environmental groups have raised concerns about the long-term health effects of being exposed to the radio frequency radiation emitted by the meters. And the group Vermonters for a Clean Environment doesn't trust the study's findings.

The highest level of exposure the study found in its tests was 3.9 percent of the FCC's top exposure limit, said the Department of Public Service, which hired the company that prepared the report. The study found that other commonly used devices, including cordless phones, cellphones and microwave ovens, all emit higher levels of radio frequency.

"It is concluded that any potential exposure to the investigated smart meters will comply with the FCC exposure rules by a wide margin," said the report, which was released Wednesday.

The conclusions of the report were based on results of lab testing and field measurements from smart meters being used by Green Mountain Power and the Burlington Electric Department.

GMP spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said the new smart meters, and other technological improvements, would improve reliability and help the utility offer more cost-effective service to its customers.

"The results of this study confirmed what we already believed: smart meters are safe for our customers," she said.

But Vermonters for a Clean Environment, which describes itself as an environmental advocacy group that works to ensure citizens have a voice in the regulatory process, said the study was flawed.

"Our concerns have to do with the need to accurately assess the emissions from the wireless smart meters," said Matt Levin, the group's outreach and development director. "While I have not read the report in detail, based on our conversations with department staff and the consultants who performed the report, we do not believe the testing was accurate or done in an unbiased, independent manner."

The Legislature commissioned the report last year as part of a package of energy legislation.

A number of Vermont utilities are installing smart meters in place of traditional meters that had to be regularly read by someone to determine a customer's power consumption. Smart meters allow two-way communications between the customer and the utility, in many cases by two-way radio.

The meters could make it possible to allow electricity prices to vary at different times of the day, which could encourage consumers to use power-hungry appliances such as dishwashers and clothes dryers at night when demand, and the price, is low.

But some feel human exposure to the radio frequency levels from smart meters can cause cancer and other ills.

"There's another set of health concerns -- anecdotally people experience nausea, headaches, dizziness -- heart problems, that seem to correlate with exposure to the wireless smart meter," Levin said.

Levin said his group had asked to work with the state to establish the scope of the study and select the firm to conduct it.

"All we have is another thing to argue about, and that's not helpful," Levin said.


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