During a sometimes raucous standing-room-only meeting, the Woodstock Town Board passed two resolutions urging the Public Service Commission (PSC) to require Central Hudson to allow people to keep their analog meters in lieu of new digital meters many residents say are harmful.
Councilman Ken Panza had drafted a resolution demanding PSC action, but the group Stop Smart Meters Woodstock offered their own, claiming Panza’s version didn’t go far enough and was full of loopholes.
The board approved Panza’s version 3-1 and the Stop Smart Meters version unanimously.
Panza, Bill McKenna and Cathy Magarelli voted for Panza’s resolution. Councilman Jay Wenk was opposed. Supervisor Jeremy Wilber is on leave.
Many accused the Town Board of having made up its mind without listening to the will of the people, 800 of whom signed a petition in support of the alternative resolution.
“The elephant in the room is Central Hudson and they’re driving the town resolution,” said Weston Blelock of Stop Smart Meters Woodstock.
The issue came to the forefront recently when residents began complaining about the utility’s program that allows ratepayers to opt out of newer meters that transmit radio waves. While the new encoder receiver transmitter, or ERT meters make it easier for utility personnel to take readings, a number of people have complained they cause ill health effects and are especially harmful to children.
The opt-out meters offered by Central Hudson are digital, but do not transmit signals. Still, some claim the electronics emit electromagnetic fields that are harmful.
Central Hudson says analog meters, the kind with the spinning dials, are no longer made, requiring replacement with digital ones. Stop Smart Meters says companies are making refurbished models available.
“I like the Town Board and I wouldn’t want to think of you guys the same way as the Public Service Commission,” said Randi Steele, of Birds of a Feather Media, which runs Woodstock 104, WIOF, a local radio station, urging the board to act on the will of the people and pass the alternative resolution.
Nancy Butler-Ross said the board ignored the voice of 1,000 signatures on a petition when it voted last year to allow hunting in a limited area near Yankeetown Pond. She urged the board not to ignore the people this time.
Former County Legislature Chair Terry Bernardo, Republican from the town of Rochester, who has said she is running for County Executive, suggested an amendment urging support of a proposed state law called the New York State Utility Consumers Health, Safety and Privacy Protection Act, which would require utilities to replace an electronic meter with an analog model within one week of a request and at no charge.
“The New York State Legislature will trump the Public Service Commission,” said Bernardo, noting the agency would be bound to enforce state law.
Wenk offered the amendment, but the board tabled it to the June 16 meeting to make sure letters are sent to the proper officials in Albany.
Jay Cohen called for an act of civil disobedience, saying “the head of the snake” is Central Hudson. “We should get in front of the CEO of Central Hudson,” Cohen said.
Raji Nevin, who, along with Steve Romine, spent a considerable amount of time drafting the Stop Smart Meters resolution that calls for people’s right to keep an analog meter with no extra fees, pointed out that it also includes definitions, something they say is key to keeping the utility from taking advantage of loopholes. “Steve and I didn’t have to do any of this,” Nevin said. “We’re trying to help people.”
The two have been without Central Hudson power for about two and a half years since refusing to accept a digital meter on their home. In the past they have used power from a neighbor’s home and they also have a generator.
Nevin said there is a lot of focus on the opt-out fee, but it’s more than just that. A neighbor may decide to stick with the ERT meter rather than pay the monthly fee, subjecting other neighbors to ill health effects, she said. Without a fee, it’s easier to educate people, she explained.
Central Hudson charges a one-time meter change fee of $49, but only if an ERT meter is already installed. A fee of $6 per month for reading the meter is also charged.
Stop Smart Meters New York Director Michelle Hertz said the health problem is widespread. “I hear from people all across the state. Everywhere the smart meters are, people are getting sick,” Hertz said.