When the New York Public Service Commission recently put out a press release announcing its resolution of a Central Hudson stand-off regarding charging consumers to opt out of use of its ‘smart meters,’ Woodstocker Steve Romine chuckled at the ‘news’ from his Fitzsimmons Lane home that was cut off the grid by the region’s energy monopoly four and a half years ago.
As he would then note in a letter that ran in last week’s Woodstock Times, “Could it be this press release came about because I had just served them with court papers with legal action a couple of days before?”
The PSC decision, according to its October 19 release, directed Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation to withdraw monthly fees for residential customers who choose to opt-out of using meter-reading devices that can be read remotely. “This move reverses an earlier decision requiring residential customers pay a fee to cover the costs associated with the manual reading a customer’s electric meter,” it read. “For residential customers that currently have an advanced, automated electric meter installed at their property, the Commission determined that it is appropriate for the customer to make a one-time payment to cover the cost of switching from the advanced meter to a non-communicating, conventional meter, upon the customer’s request.” But the PSC also declined to require Central Hudson to make such old-style meters available “because such technology is obsolete and currently not in production by any major meter manufacturer, and therefore does not offer a viable solution to address the concerns of some Central Hudson customers” while simultaneously noting that it “will require the availability of a non-communicating, solid-state meter option.”
“The monthly fees associated with the meter opt-out program were designed to cover the cost of manually reading the digital non-communicating meters, and was initially approved by regulators. The Public Service Commission offered additional analysis, and issued a decision to waive the monthly fee, effective Dec. 1, 2017,” noted John Maserjian, Central Hudson’s Director of Media Affairs, in an email. “Central Hudson serves approximately 300,000 electric customers, and digital meters are currently in use in approximately 41 percent of accounts. The remaining analog meters are gradually being replaced: Central Hudson is required to test approximately 3.5 percent of its residential meters per year, and in doing so replaces older analog meters with digital ERT meters. ERT meters are also installed in new construction or to replace meters which may be damaged. To date, 81 customer accounts have enrolled in the opt out program. The opt-out meter is a digital, non-communicating model that must be read manually. They do not emit radio signals, and studies show these models emit lower levels of EMF than do analog meters, which are no longer produced. (All electrically operated devices, including household appliances, emit EMF.)”
Romine and his partner Raji Nevin galvanized Woodstock’s protest movement against “smart meters” nearly five years ago when the couple came to the conclusion that Nevin suffered a “mini-stroke” as a result of her proximity to a new GE-built Encoder Receiver Transmitter/meter supplied by Central Hudson. After requesting that the company replace their new device with the older meter they’d replaced, and getting no reply, Romine bought an analog meter online and documented his switch out of the new ‘smart meter’ for CH. After which the company sent someone to completely un-hook the couple’s rented home from the Central Hudson system, and hence the entire electrical grid.
Nevin said in a recent interview that its “not been fun” living without a regular electrical supply for four and a half years, although she added that Romine has “band-aided” a system of some sort together and that their landlord, who was contacted regularly by Central Hudson in the first year after the Fitzsimmons Lane house was shut off from the grid, backed up their battle with the power company. She added that, simultaneously, she’s “absolutely feeling better.”
Romine, who has been representing himself through a pair of legal actions over the past five years, asked why Central Hudson and the Public Service Commission has taken so long to come to a decision on the opt out option regarding meters. He noted how Pacific Gas & Electric has long had such a program in Colorado, along with a number of states across the nation, including Maine, which uses refurbished analog meters. He was also quick to note that the PSC’s decision, and accompanying press release, appeared disingenuous, given that the meters they were extolling as “an alternative” also create electromagnetic interference, even if not in a “microwave” form.
“We had been waiting for that decision and press release for two years. We submitted a petition with over 1000 signatures. The [Woodstock] town board passed a resolution in our favor, and against smart meters. We notified and certified everything,” Romine said in answer to the state’s recent action. “Interestingly enough I served the NYSDPS (the state Department of Public Service) a couple of days before they made their press release. In the complaint I accused the NSYDPS of dragging their feet regarding the opt-out issue which is twofold — no monthly fees and the use of analog meters. Looks to me like they needed to show the court I am wrong about dragging their feet but continue to commit fraud maintaining analog meters are not available when twelve states have analog opt-outs. That being said I do consider the opt-out monthly fee a victory for the people but the ‘Meter Dispute’ is certainly not settled.”
When Central Hudson okayed an “opt out” of its new program to install digital meters throughout its coverage area, which they have described as a first step towards a “smart grid” that allows utility companies to tailor the supply of electricity to the measured level of demand to better lower waste and provide savings, they included both a one-time opt-out fee and a monthly add-on fee to cover what they said were added labor charges for reading analog meters. The new decision cuts out the monthly cost while slightly raising the one-time “opt out” fee.
“Well isn’t that nice of them for not charging us $7 a month for the rest of our lives. The interesting thing is that out of the 300,000 customers Central Hudson has, 200,000 customers still have analogs utility meters on their homes and none of them ever had to pay $7 a month to have the meter read manually, so why should anyone who opts out have had to pay?” Romine noted. “Furthermore Central Hudson and the NYPSC continue to commit fraud on the public by stating ‘analog meters are no longer manufactured and are no longer available.’ On the contrary, three manufacturers nationwide re-manufacture original analog meters which are more accurate than when they were first manufactured and have a longer guarantee. A dozen states use them in their opt-out programs, including Texas, Michigan, Nevada and California which has the strictest standards in the country.”
“Central Hudson’s standard ERT meters use a low-power radio signal to communicate with hand-held receivers carried by meter readers. These meters are safe and reliable, and used widely by utilities in New York and across the United States,” Maserjian noted, in reply. “The ERT meters deployed by Central Hudson are approved for use by the New York State Public Service Commission and meet or exceed Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and American National Standards Institute (ANSI) safety requirements. The meters operate independently and do not communicate with a central computer system, as do two-way smart meters. Central Hudson has no plans to use two-way smart meters as it’s standard, but is offering these on an opt-in basis for a monthly fee for those interested in more closely monitoring their energy use.”
Romine’s first legal case with Central Hudson ended in a summary judgment motion against them based on his having added Central Hudson’s CEO and president among its defendants. He has been pushing to have that decision reversed since it “froze all my rights” and cut off his access to due process, along with his “right to electrical service.”
Romine and Nevin have long noted how most of the homes on their street, just off Tinker Street, are still using analog meters.
The new lawsuit, first filed in May before state Supreme Court Judge Christopher Cahill, was answered by a 100 page response from Central Hudson, which Romine then answered with 60 new pages of argument and 570 pages of exhibits.
“I answered all their questions. They’ve refused to answer all my questions,” Romine said. “The judge has not ruled yet but my lawyer friends see the four month time lapse as a good sign.”
Speaking on behalf of the Woodstock Smart Meter Forum that he chairs, and which Nevin and Romine are members, Weston Blelock wrote of the recent SC decision that, “I have mixed feelings. Obviously, the PSC tried to pacify the waters with a compromise… The radio-off or non-transmitting meter is marginally better than the ERT, but it still emits dirty electricity. The latter is a known carcinogen. In addition, the radio-off meter is subject to power surges which can engulf a home’s wiring and fry its electronics…Other states such as California offer opt-out seekers the opportunity to retain their electromechanical or analog utility meters. These meters have no health impacts, don’t catch fire or collect private information. This was — and still is — our preferred option.”
Blelock further pointed out how Central Hudson Fortis (as the company is now called, following a merger with a Canadian power company) got the NYS Public Service Commission to exempt it from having to pay for damages created by deficiencies with its meters or service. He also noted the power company’s recently approved rate surge.
“The fight will continue,” he added.
“It’s still dirty power, dirty electricity, and that’s where I object,” Romine said. “Why their recalcitrance on this issue…they’re a monopoly…they’re power trippers.”
“It’s all insidious,” added Raji Nevin. “There should be red flags going up every time they say ‘smart-this’ or ‘smart-that.’ Before you know it everyone will be affected.”
Maserjian, speaking on Central Hudson’s behalf, said it was company policy never to discuss pending litigation.
For the full power commission decision, visit the Commission Documents section of the Commission’s Web site at www.dps.ny.gov and entering Case Number 14-M-0196 in the input box labeled “Search for Case/Matter Number.”