The word around Glasco last week was that the new water meters being installed could cause illness and track a customer’s water use in real-time. That information, some of which appeared in the letters to the editor section of the local papers, led to several residents cancelling their installation appointments and scores of anxious phone calls to town officials. But Supervisor Kelly Myers said there was a problem with the case against the meters.
“None of that’s true,” she said.
Myers believes some residents are confusing the water meters with some new models of electrical meters and associated technology. Unlike the electrical meters, the new water meters don’t emit a continuous signal, she said. Instead, they will be activated just twice a year, for a half-second, as the meter reader drives by in a vehicle. “This is really just a call and response system,” said Myers, who described the signal as “the same strength as a cell phone.”
As a result of public concern, the town will hold a public information meeting Tuesday, Aug. 27, at 7 p.m. at the Glasco Firehouse.
Some of the confusion at all levels stems from the definition of “smart meter.” The Federal Energy Regulation Commission defines it as “usually an electrical meter that records consumption of electric energy in intervals of an hour or less and communicates that information at least daily back to the utility for monitoring and billing purposes.” By that definition, the meters in Saugerties aren’t smart meters. But others speak of any meter capable of reporting usage remotely as a smart meter and the town has referred to these water meters by that term frequently-including in the announcement of the public information meeting.
The latest generation of utility meters—all of which have the ability to communicate remotely—have led to health and privacy concerns whenever they’ve been installed. On the health side, the issue is radiofrequency energy, which is also created by microwaves, AM/FM radios and, by far the largest source, cell phones. While anecdotal evidence of illness and discomfort abounds among those who describe themselves as having “electromagnetic sensitivity,” scientific studies haven’t shown a clear link between this radiation and cancer or other diseases. Privacy concerns center on electrical smart meters, which are already being used by PG&E in California to measure real-time usage and encourage conservation by charging a higher rate during peak times. Opponents object to utility companies having access to that information.
In Saugerties, the Glasco water district will be the first large-scale deployment of the new meters. Other towns, like Ulster, have had them for years.
“I’d like to ask these people who are objecting how much they use their cell phones,” said town of Ulster Supervisor James Quigley. He said the Ulster meters are activated for “three seconds, four times a year. I would guess people use their cell phones a lot more than 12 seconds per year.” He said the town has never had a complaint.
Woodstock Supervisor Jeremy Wilbur said his town has been using water meters that can be read remotely for many years, also without complaint. He said the water meters are not the same as the electrical meters that some say are causing health problems. “These are not smart meters,” he said. “That’s a whole different ball game.”
About a dozen of the new type of meters have been installed on Kings Highway as part of the upgrade three years ago, said Deputy Supervisor James Bruno, also with no complaint.
But Bob Aiello, county legislator and Glasco native, has heard some complaints. Since learning about the new meters, he’s done research on the Internet and spoken with several local people who say they suffered ill health effects from new electrical meters, including tinnitus and headaches. He said his wife became uncomfortable when standing near a neighbor’s recently installed electrical meter.
“We know they’re efficient,” he said. “The question is how safe are they?”
Aiello said most complaints have been about electrical meters, but the new water meters are also a concern because they operate in a similar way. The cell phone comparison doesn’t persuade him—he almost never uses one. A cancer survivor himself, he’s not sure they’re safe. He compares science’s lack of concern about the health effects of radiofrequency energy to medicine’s denial of the existence of chronic Lyme disease, an advocacy issue for him.
Aiello plans to hold a public hearing on the issue in the county Legislature later this year.
The installation, which includes 1,838 meters, began July 31. According to Myers, several residents have not allowed contractors from National Metering Services to install the meters. Apparently they’d taken the advice of Glasco resident Donna Greco, who has written several letters opposing the meters.
“For those who are concerned that RF [radio frequency] radiation is harmful to humans and causes a vast array of deadly health conditions, please take the initiative to preserve your health: Slam your door shut and don’t let him in,” she wrote.