Vermont’s two largest utilities had a pretty good year in the Statehouse. They beat back attempts to force a direct refund to ratepayers when Central Vermont Public Service Corporation is sold. And they avoided a proposed mandate to buy a percentage of their electricity from renewable sources.
But they lost the fight on smart meters.
Vermonters who don’t want wireless smart meters on their homes or businesses can now opt out of the technology for free.
Utilities had wanted to charge customers $10 a month if they declined to have the new meters installed. But the Legislature said customers don’t have to pay.
Justine Cook of Dorset helped organize a Town Meeting day vote against the wireless technology. She says thanks to the Legislature, people can opt out of smart meters without paying a financial penalty
"Now people really can make the choice to have no smart meter," Cook says. "The billing issues that have come up in the past in other parts of the country where people were being billed two, three or four times what they were being billed for electric, that’s not going to be a problem. So from our point of view, it’s fantastic."
The smart meters use wireless technology to send real-time data back to the power company. The utilities say customers will eventually be able to use the devices to manage their electricity use. For example, they could run appliances at a time when electricity is cheaper.
Dorothy Schnure of Green Mountain Power says the immediate benefit of smart meters will be near instantaneous detection of power outages.
"The meter will tell us when your power goes out," she says. "So if the power goes out when you are at work, we will get the message and we’ll be able to send a truck out in most cases and bring it back on before you even get home from work and when you would normally report it to us."
Steve Costello of Central Vermont Public Service says he doesn’t expect many ratepayers will chose to opt out. CVPS and GMP had wanted to charge $10 a month. The fee was meant to cover the cost of reading the old-style analog meters manually.
Costello says utilities generally have been allowed to charge customers what it costs to provide the service.
"It is a departure from what has been done historically in Vermont," he says. "But clearly it’s the Legislature’s prerogative to make a change in policy like that. And we’re happy to follow their policy."
The smart meters use small, low-power radios, similar to cell phones, to send data. Opponents say the radio waves could cause health problems. The bill passed by the Legislature calls for a new study of the potential health impacts.