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Over the next few months, Green Mountain Power (GMP) will be installing new advanced meters on homes and businesses in the Mad River Valley area. These meters are just one facet of a system-wide upgrade that will allow for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and incorporation of more local renewable sources of electricity. We’ll also be able to identify problems sooner and respond faster. The result is better reliability for our customers, with new opportunities for managing costs.
Why are we doing this? The electric grid as it exists today is an engineering marvel that powers the economy and enables many of the comforts and conveniences of modern life. It’s 99.97 percent reliable and very efficient. But Vermonters are demanding more from the grid every day – plugging in an increasing number of computers, high-definition TVs, cell phones and electric cars. To keep up with demand and prepare for the future, most of Vermont’s electric utilities are installing technologies that will keep the grid operating more intelligently and efficiently than ever.
The upgrades include new sensors and controls throughout the system. This will keep the GMP control room continuously informed about equipment malfunctions, changes in demand and problems caused by storms, animals or falling tree limbs. We’re already using this information to keep little problems from turning into big ones and when the upgrades are complete we expect the number and duration of power outages to decrease.
In addition to the upgrades to our transmission lines and substations, we are installing new advanced meters throughout our service area. The new meters are the same size as your current meter and will be placed in the same location. The installation will take just a few minutes and you don’t need to be home. These new meters have the ability to alert us immediately if your power goes out, so we can start to make repairs even if no one is home to report the problem. Eventually, your meter will let you to see how much electricity your home uses on a daily, or even hourly, basis. If you want to, you will be able to use this information to make changes that reduce your carbon footprint and save you money.
In the future, Green Mountain Power may have rates that reward you for running your dryer or dishwasher in the middle of the morning or later in the evening, when demand on the system is lower. This is similar to the discounts offered by airlines and phone companies to off-peak users. Participation in these incentive programs will be voluntary. Because the electricity generated to meet peak demand is the most expensive and most polluting, reducing the load on the system during these time periods will help to manage costs and decrease fossil fuel emissions.
Some questions have been raised recently regarding health concerns in relation to radio frequency (RF) output from the new meters. The scientific community, including health experts at the state, national and international level, has found that there is no scientific basis for these concerns. Peer-reviewed studies conducted by a wide variety of experts show that the RF from smart meters is a tiny fraction of the RF emitted from WiFi routers, baby monitors, cell phones and many other widely used devises. Typically the meters will transmit every six hours for a few seconds at a time. The World Health Association’s International EMF Project has reviewed approximately 25,000 articles and concluded that “scientific knowledge in this area is now more extensive than for most chemicals. Based on a recent in-depth review of the literature, the World Health Association has concluded that current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields.” (www.who.int/peh-emf/about/WhatisEMF/en/index1.html accessed June 18, 2012.)
We’ve been asked how we’ll use the information collected by the new meters. Protecting customer information has always been central to our operations and we will continue to treat your information in a confidential manner. Despite the conjecture of some critics, smart meters will simply tell us whether you are using power and how much you are using. We won’t know what you are using it for, control how you use it, or sell your information to anyone. The information will only be used to inform how we operate the grid, bill you for service and help Efficiency Vermont provide energy efficiency services to you.
Customers who do not want a new meter on their home or business may opt out at no cost by calling Green Mountain Power’s customer service office. Customers who opt out will not have access to new incentive rates or to detailed information about electric usage. Without the new meter, GMP will not receive automatic notification of power outages.
The cost of implementing these upgrades is not expected to have a noticeable effect on rates. Over the first five years, cumulative rate increases related to the project are expected to total less than 1 percent. Due to operation and maintenance savings made possible by the upgrades, over the life of the project we expect our rates to be lower than they otherwise would have been.
Smart Grid upgrades have been implemented across the United States, with more than 30 million new meters installed so far. The upgrades have already proven their worth, as utilities around the country are reporting that after the unusually heavy storms of the past year they’ve restored power to customers faster than they would have been able to otherwise. Customers are also reporting satisfaction at having information that allows them to reduce their carbon footprint and take advantage of lower rates at off-peak hours. In the coming years, when GMP’s upgrades are fully implemented, we look forward to sharing similar success stories here in Vermont.
Schnure is the manager of corporate communications for Green Mountain Power.