Smart meter oversight bill heads to Senate

BENNINGTON -- A bill originally introduced by Bennington County Sen. Robert Hartwell, seeking more oversight of smart meters being deployed by electric utilities, has cleared the Senate Finance Committee and will hit the Senate floor.

The bill, S.214, was approved Tuesday by the Finance Committee by a unanimous vote. The bill was changed some, Hartwell said, but he favors the changes.

"I'm really glad that it got as far as it did. I hope to get it passed in the Senate," Hartwell said.

The legislation spells out customers' rights, including a requirement that utilities provide written notice to customers that wireless smart meters use "radio or other wireless means for two-way communication between the meter and the company." The bill also states that customers who choose not to have a wireless smart meter installed can do so at no additional monthly charge, unless the charge is approved by the state's Public Service Board.

Customers could also have a wireless smart meter removed without incurring a charge.

"It's got some provisions about getting rid of the fee and how to opt out," Hartwell said.

The legislation also calls for several reports to be delivered to the Legislature. Two reports would be due on Jan. 1, 2014, and Jan. 1, 2016, on the energy savings realized through smart meters and any breaches to utilities' "cybersecurity infrastructure."

A third health report would be due by Jan. 15, 2013, that includes an update on the Department of Health's current report on "Radio Frequency Radiation and Health."

Hartwell said he remains skeptical of the claims made by utilities that wireless smart meters are harmless. "I think there are some health issues that are associated with it, which the power companies have done a poor job researching. They make a lot of blanket statements," he said.

Hartwell said he also sees "a potentially serious invasion of privacy" from the smart meters. The meters will allow utilities to know how much power households are using at certain times. Because most of the money being used to deploy smart meter systems is from the federal government, that raises privacy issues with the government, Hartwell said.

"I think they are perilously close to being able to tell what you're doing in your own home," he said.

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