Representatives from Orange & Rockland Utilities said 5,000 electric smart meters and 2,300 smart gas meters are now being installed in Chester, with work to be completed by next May. And they reassured residents that fears about the devices' health hazards are unfounded.
Attending the Aug. 28 Chester town board meeting from O&R were Keith Scerbo, general manager in charge of smart meters; Mike Pinto, project manager; Eric Fuentes, manager of public affairs; and Mike Donovan, media spokesman.
Fuentes said 70 million households nationwide have smart meters. The devices replace human meter readers by using radio frequency waves to transmit data on energy use directly to the utility around the clock, instead of a few times a year.
Pinto said customers can immediately view their data online and, if they wish, make cutbacks to save money.
He noted that customers can opt out for a $15 monthly fee, but added that "the more customers who opt out, the fewer benefits there are for others."
Councilman Vinnie Finizia asked Pinto, "How does this save us if we don't get the $15 and you do?"
Pinto said the money is saved over time. Scerbo said the utility's goal is to control bulk costs for the benefit of all customers.
Resident Chris Mauer, who has also objected to the meters since their advent was announced, said rate increases from customers opting out only benefits O&R. It's unfair to consumers, she said. Pinto and Scerbo said only 0.5 or 0.6 percent O&R customers in Orange and Sullivan have opted out so far.
Resident Lydia Cuadros, who in the past has complained to the town board about the risks she says smart meters pose, asked how their health effects have been determined. The American Cancer Society says on its web page that smart meters have not been tested.
Pinto said smart meters are much safer than cell phones, which also emit radio frequencies, and that they furthermore remain outside the home. All of O&R's meters meet research standards, he said.
Finizia asked about the job losses that smart meters cause. Scebo said the meter readers job is a two-year position. The readers when move up in the company to make more money, he said.
"They are cramming smart phones down our throats," Councilwoman Cindy Smith said. "If I feel my health is in jeopardy, why do I have to accept it and pay. That's the bottom line. You are going to make the money."
There are 48 Smart Meter trucks out on installation runs, marked with orange logos to identify them.