O&R rolls out smart meters, saying they emit fewer radio waves than cell phones

Chester. Utility representatives address questions about meter reader jobs, health hazards, and opt-out fees.

04 Sep 2019 | 02:45

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.

Health questions

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.

Mike Donovan shared the following fact sheet with The Chronicle:
There are a few pieces of inaccurate or incomplete information about smart meters that have been circulating publicly. To clear up any confusion that inaccurate or incomplete information might have caused, here are the facts:
Smart meters, which already serve about 70 million customers nationwide, are safe, secure and reliable encrypted devices that will provide two-way, wireless communication between O&R and its customers’ energy service.
They are designed to provide O&R customers greater choice, control and convenience over their energy use. O&R has begun installing over 5,000 electric smart meters and more than 2,300 smart gas modules in Chester this month and should complete that work by the end of May 2020. Thus far, O&R has installed 431 electric smart meters and 68 smart gas modules.
Smart meters are designed to:
Allow customers to better control their energy costs and provide remote capabilities to deliver an improved customer experience.
Facilitate quicker restoration of service after a storm event by communicating the precise location of service interruptions
Reduce costs for meter reading and customer field services, as well as the costs associated with back-office operations required to handle customer billing inquiries
O&R plans to install 230,000 electric smart meters in its New York service area by the end of 2020. O&R already has installed 71,882 electric smart meters for its nearly 73,000 customers in its Rockland Electric service area in New Jersey.
The following points are being amplified for completeness:
Safety. O&R is deploying smart meters that have been Underwriters’ Laboratories (UL) certified, meet all government/federal guidelines, are tested by independent third party labs, tested internally by O&R and approved for use by the New York State Public Service Commission (NYSPSC). The smart meters emit low level radio frequencies which are well within allowable levels set by national standards and are far lower than levels emitted by common devices such as microwaves and smart phones.
Opt-out fee. For those customers who prefer to decline smart meter installation, O&R will provide a digital, non-communicating meter which also is tested and approved by the NYS Public Service Commission. These meters must be read in person by a meter technician each month. Because the standard O&R service is now smart meter readings, the cost of the manual reading must be covered directly by the customer receiving the service. This methodology has been employed throughout most smart meter programs across the United States. The NYS Public Service Commission has approved a manual meter reading fee of $15 per month for a customer opting out of both electric and gas service smart meters from O&R, and a $10 per month charge for either an electric or a gas service smart meter opt out only.
Meter reader jobs. The meter reading position at O&R has traditionally been an entry level position. That means the majority of meter readers — there were about 50 of them before smart meter deployment began — move on after a short time to other positions of increasing responsibility within the company. That natural progression to jobs within O&R is being managed to reduce the existing meter reading staff. No meter readers are being let go as a result of the smart meter deployment. A small number of meter readers will be needed to perform the manual reads of the opt-out meters that do not have the smart meter technology’s communication features.
Installation fee. There is no fee for electric or gas — or both — smart meter installations.
Meter exchange fee. The meter exchange fee is only applied if a customer receives a smart meter and then chooses to opt out after the smart meter has been installed. The 45-day letter gives the customer advance notice to properly opt out before the installation is complete. If the customer decides to opt-out after the smart meter has been installed, O&R will remove the smart meter and install a digital, non-communicating meter which also is tested and approved by the NYSPSC. The cost for removing the already-installed smart meter is: $45 for electric; $55 for gas and $90 for both.