As one of the top 10 U.S. states for technology—ranked number three behind New York and California in 2010 and 2011 by CNBC—Massachusetts has never been known to balk at developing, testing, or deploying next-generation infrastructure. The progressive and liberal Commonwealth is home to such companies as biotechnology developer Genzyme, medical equipment maker Boston Scientific, aerospace and defense contractor Raytheon and robot maker iRobot; as well as a number of academic research leaders, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

So when residents began complaining about their smart meters—saying that they had serious health and safety concerns about the advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) deployed at 16,000 homes in Braintree  and at 15,000 homes  in Worcester—it got statewide attention.

Because the AMI offers two-way communications, it enables utilities to monitor their lines and substations remotely—pinpointing irregularities before they cause widespread problems, responding quickly when an outage already has occurred, and providing individualized profiles for users on the amount of energy that their appliances and homes are using at any given time. The last capability also can be used to provide lower rates to customers who use more electricity during “off-peak” hours and to send alerts to customers to ask them to cut back on usage when the grid is at full (or peak) capacity, at times like noon on a hot summer day.

But according to meter opponents, smart meters with two-way transmitters are not only capable of alerting ratepayers to a real-time peak energy problem, but also of taking action to correct it, by cutting down a customer’s air conditioning, for example. They also worry that the meters emit radiation that can cause illness in residents of homes where they are installed.

Moreover, following the recent leaks out of the National Security Administration (NSA), alleging that the government has far more domestic spying going on than the U.S. population previously had believed, meter opponents are now accusing their utilities of both leaving them exposed to potential hacking and of spying on customers themselves.

Talking to the Patriot Ledger, a local Massachusetts newspaper, this week, Clare Donegan of Quincy, a member of the advocacy group, characterized smart meters as “invasive,” alleging that they can collect data that, if accessed by hackers, can reveal when people are asleep or if their homes are unoccupied.

“Haven’t we learned a lesson with NSA, Verizon, and the IRS?” Donegan asked. “If they can [take private data], they will,” she told the Ledger.It’s none of their damn business. I’ll invite them in when they knock on my door—and if I want them to come in.”

Donegan is supporting a new bill introduced to the Massachusetts State Legislature by state Rep. Thomas Conroy (D-Wayland) and state Sen. James Eldrige (D-Acton): H.2926 188th (Current), “An Act relative to utilities, smart meters, and ratepayers’ rights.”

If this measure is passed:
  • Massachusetts ratepayers must be given a choice of the type of utility meters to be installed and operated at their places of residence, property, or business;
  • The utilities must obtain the ratepayer’s written consent before installing smart meters on his or her property;
  • Ratepayers can retain their conventional, analog meters, if they wish;
  • Ratepayers can request the utility to replace smart meters with analog meters at no cost (and the utility must promptly comply); and
  • Utilities are prohibited from shutting off service to a ratepayer based on the amount of utility usage the ratepayer uses or the ratepayer having wireless smart meters; prohibited from imposing any disincentive on a ratepayer for not consenting to the installation or use of wireless smart meters; and required to notify ratepayers in writing that the installation and use of wireless smart meters are not mandated by state or federal law and are not permitted without the ratepayer’s consent.
A hearing on the measure was held by the Telecommunications Committee of the Massachusetts Senate on June 21.

According to the publication, Electromagnetic Health, Rep. Conroy testified that the bill grants “consumers choice when they want to opt-out of [the smart meter] effort for whatever reason, and there are all sorts of different studies being done at this time about the potentially physically damaging effect of the smart meters.”  Notwithstanding that, he said, “The president of the United States and the governor are behind this.”

Conroy advocated, “These are people’s homes. If you put yourself in the shoes of these homeowners —who have sometimes been there 20, 30, 50 years —to suddenly feel like you are not safe in your own home because of something over which you had no choice – that’s a terrible feeling,” adding, “There are a lot of concerned citizens out there.”

Janet Newton of the EMR Policy Institute testified that Federal Communications Commission (FCC) guidelines are not standards and require human epidemiological studies.  “Currently there are no national or international ‘standards’ for safety levels of radiofrequency devices,” she said, quoting De-Kun Li, MD, PhD, MPH, of Kaiser Permanente. “To claim that they meet ‘FCC’ standards gives a false impression of safety certainty compared to ‘guidelines’ which implies that a lot is ‘unknown.’”

The Committee is still accepting written submissions from smart meter advocates and opponents.
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