Massachusetts: Consumer advocates call for audit of National Grid Smart Meter Pilot Program

Editorial in the newspaper Leominster Champion, 8-22-14:

WORCESTER –The Worcester Zoning Board of Appeals approval for National Grid to erect sound barriers on the north and south walls of the Cook’s Pond substation has intensified demands by consumer advocates for increased oversight and auditing of the controversial smart meter pilot program.

Wireless smart utility meters enable two-way communication between home appliances and the utility company, and have come under fire nationwide for security, safety, privacy, exorbitant cost, greenwashing, and health issues.

The Department of Public Utilities, chaired by Ann Berwick, wife of Gubernatorial candidate Don Berwick, mandated smart meter installation by investor-owned utilities in Massachusetts, despite the fact that the $48M pilot program has not yet begun.  The DPU and the pilot have been criticized for behind-closed-door dealings, lack of environmental and health monitoring, and deleterious impacts on property values also plaguing the New England governor’s plans for the Kinder-Morgan gas pipeline and Northern Pass.

Advocates question whether escalating costs for the pilot will be borne by ratepayers, taxpayers, or investors.  According to documents obtained through a FOIA request, the program’s official start was delayed from January to October 2014.  Cost overruns in other states including Maine have resulted in rate hikes.

Due to sound ordinance violations, a chained-link fence surrounding the Cooks Pond neighborhood substation will be replaced by an industrial 12-inch wide 24-foot high sound wall on the north side, and a 20-foot wall on the south side, each extending over 160-feet to mitigate noise from transformers and HVAC equipment.

Residents question whether the substation in the heart of a residential district should have been targeted for significant expansion in the first place, why it was not engineered properly for compliance with sound ordinances, and why the utility was not fined for the nuisance violation. In response to opposition to a 90-foot microwave tower at the substation, Worcester’s Assessor issued a report stating that due to tree cover, the impact would be minimal on property values, yet removal of significant foliage contributed to the sound ordinance violation, and no longer shields the neighborhood’s view of the substation.

Charges that the program is being implemented to justify rather than to scrutinize smart meters in a demonstration of “decision-based evidence making” by the DPU and National Grid have intensified over time, starting with the choreographed Green2Growth symposium.  Activists have been unable to obtain data concerning the expense associated with auto-enrollment and subsequent de-installation despite filing a FOIA request, and the DPU has mandated auto-enroll state-wide, with opt-out fees planned, even though National Grid promotes the pilot’s free opt out as indicative of its commitment to customer choice. The pilot footprint has extended beyond its approved map, and the program is 5 times larger the Green Communities Act mandate.

Unbudgeted testimony for National Grid by career tobacco scientist-for-hire Peter Valberg did not convince informed environmentalists that the technology protects the health of citizens or the environment, particularly because area residents have reported injury and illness. CEIVA, a firm with Disneyland roots known for “telling stories” has been employed to help launch the home energy management segment of the pilot.

HaltMAsmartmeters and StopSmartMeter MA activists note that the Worcester pilot program reflects the level of integrity for MA residents of the DPU’s mandate to insure safe and reliable delivery of electricity, noting  “Its not looking good for ratepayer’s rights or for the environment, and what happens in Worcester won’t stay in Worcester.”


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