Markowitz: Smart meters, smart grid and smart consumers

Editor’s note: Deb Markowitz is the secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources.

A postcard arrived in the mail the other day from my power company to let me know that a smart meter was going to be installed soon at my home. I can’t wait! With a smart meter we’ll be able to track our electricity use more accurately (particularly important with a house full of teenagers) and help us save money. But what really excites me and other environmentalists about the smart meter is that it is the technological innovation needed to enable us to integrate more renewable energy into our system and reduce our contributions to global warming.

But what really excites me and other environmentalists about the smart meter is that it is the technological innovation needed to enable us to integrate more renewable energy into our system and reduce our contributions to global warming.

Smart meters will help our utilities create a “smart grid.” The smart grid uses wireless meters and computer technology to allow utilities to see how much and where energy is being consumed. Electric utilities need this information to integrate renewable energy sources into the existing electrical grid structure, since most are intermittent (i.e. solar works best on sunny days, wind energy is produced only when the wind is blowing).

For this reason, smart meters and the smart grid are essential if we are to meet our goal of increasing the percentage of renewable energy to 90 percent by 2050, as called for in the 2011 Comprehensive Energy Plan. Smart meters will also let our utilities adjust their pricing to discourage energy use during the peak periods of the day and reduce it during non-peak so that we will be more efficient in how and when we use the energy we produce.

Vermont is a rural state, so it is not surprising that over half our greenhouse gas emissions — the pollution that contributes to global warming — comes from cars and trucks. A promising solution is transitioning to electric vehicles. Indeed, electric cars (battery only or plug-in hybrid) are available now from several major manufacturers and as production ramps up, technology improves and prices come down they will become a viable option for regular households shopping for their next vehicle.

In order to manage this new demand for energy without resorting to building more power plants, the tools must be in place to ensure that most charging occurs during non-peak periods.That is why those of us who are working on creating an electric vehicle network across the Northeast see smart meters as an important first step.

Let’s think about the future possibilities that come with smart meters: You may have already seen commercials showing the fully web-connected smart home, with appliances and lighting that talk to both the electric grid and your cell phone. This technology is coming and promises to revolutionize the way individual households manage their energy use, providing more convenience and more opportunities to save money as well.

Of course, smart meters and a smart grid won’t save us money and reduce our carbon emissions alone. Indeed, the most important part of the equation is the smart consumer. I’m planning on being one of the smart consumers. How about you?

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  • Scott Garren

    Deb: I can tell you, as a CVPS customer who got his smart meter 6 weeks ago, there is no useful information available from the darn thing at all! The wonderful web portal is not up. There are no dials to read and no instructions on what the inscrutable display on the device means. Finally, on my bill at least, there is no longer any kw usage information at all, though that may be because I am a solar net metering customer. I think CVPS go a little ahead of themselves with the smart meter rollout.

    You friend, Scott

    • Scott Garren

      Since William Boardman quotes my comment on I will expand my comment a little. I am on the whole a fan of smart meters. I can see lots of ways that they will someday save me money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They are not doing so today however. CVPS could have better served the cause by delaying deployment of the hardware till some software and user education was ready.

      As to radio emissions, if you are really worried about that then I assume you have given up on cell phones, microwaves and have no WIFI access point in your house. That being the case you should certainly take the option to decline the smart meter. Otherwise, unless your power meter is mounted inside right by the head of you bed I don’t think you have much to worry about. For more on this see The California Council on Science and Technology report

      • Ray Pealer

        Thanks to Markowitz and other representatives of Vermont ignoring the health issues related to smart meters, the public continues to be left in the dark.

        To this day, there have been thousands of complaints of health issues that appeared directly after smart meters were installed.

        The most common complaints are: ringing in the ears, headaches, irregular heart beat, and difficulty sleeping.

  • bob hartwell

    All consumers should take a hard look at smart meters; they pose serious threats to privacy and not a single advocate has shown any concern about health hazards; opting out is free of charge and anyone concerned about the lack of candor by advocates should opt out. This is a system poorly thought through and designed only for the benefit of the utilities

    It is most unfortunate that the Administration is so invested in a system that is of no benefit to the consumer and for which there has neen completely inadequate investigation for the public protection.

    Bob Hartwell
    State Senator

  • Those of us, like our family and farm, who have net metering solar power installations, have questions about the new meters. For example, it seems we have to purchase another meter too! Is that so?

    And, it isn’t really clear whether we will receive the same net-metering “rebate”once smart metering is in place.

    • Scott Garren

      I am a CVPS net meter customer. I did not pay for either the net or gross meters that were installed. I appear to be getting the same rebates although the bills only show dollar amounts and not Kw.

  • Cynthia Browning

    Just in case people are interested, I have confirmed that although utilities anticipate reductions in operations costs from Smart Meters that could tend to lead to a decline in electric rates, they will also include the costs of the investments in the SMs in their infrastructure base and they will be able to increase our rates to cover those costs.

    I have found that they will NOT be charging us a return on the part of the SM investment that is financed for federal funds — i.e. taxpayers, which would have been pretty outrageous.

    So whether or not SMs actually reduce rates for us will depend on the interaction of a variety of different offsetting factors. We will need to keep careful track of what the utilities, the Department of Public Service, and the Public Service Board do with rates so that if the anticipated cost reductions do not materialize the utilities cannot shift the costs of their poor business plan onto ratepayers, as we know they have done in the past.

    Rep. Cynthia Browning, Arlington

    • Coleman Dunnar

      Op-ed by the Sec of ANR??? Sounds more like a piece written by a 5th grader who has consumed too much of the cool-aid. Representative Browning once again you have hit the nail on the head. The only reason the utilities have any interest in smart meters and wind farms etc is for the money. The only way a utility earns a healthy rate of return is on money invested in capital expenditures. The cost of energy is merely a pass through which the utility does not earn a rate of return. In order to earn a profit the utility must build generation or by equipment. Hence the investment in smart meters and high priced sources of power such as wind and solar. I don’t need a smart meter to tell me to charge my E-car when I’m sleeping, which these days is only when the wind is not blowing and the whoosh whoosh of the turbines blades has stopped.

  • Question: why have 56 counties, cities, towns in CA passed ordinances and moratoriums making wireless “smart” meter installations illegal? As one of the early states to suffer massive deployment, CA citizens know firsthand the harmful effects of smart meters. Exorbitant rate increases, serious neurological health effects, privacy and cyber security compromised to name a few… Unless she’s a shill for utilities, why would Deb Markowitz mindlessly champion this? Many scientists consider RF (microwave) emissions to be a major environmental pollution, the biggest threat facing the 21 century. Wireless smartmeters would greatly increase ambient levels already deemed too high. Deb Markowitz is secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources, entrusted with preserving our states’ environment and ensuring a safe and sustainable energy future that will benefit Vermonters. She needs to do her homework on this issue, instead of buying the facile vision sold by utilities to justify a reckless, greed driven policy. I urge everyone to call CVPS/GMP and “opt out” now, especially since the $10.00 fee once associated with “opting out” has been removed.

    • Joanne Heidkamp

      Before painting all utilities as “greedy corporations”, it’s worth making note that utilities with many different kinds of business models have chosen to implement smart grid upgrades. This is true accross the country and right here in Vermont. This includes cooperatively owned utilities, where the customers are the member/owners and decision makers; municipal utilities, where the votes are the decision makers, shareholder owned utilities, and privately held companies.

      The primary motivation for these upgrades are to improve reliability of the system, allow for greater incorporation of renewables, and give the customer meaningful information that can be used to manage electricity use. Our cars have dashboard gauges to tell us how fast we’re going, how many miles we’ve driven, and how much fuel we have in the tank. We make all kinds of decisions based on this information. Smart grid will give us more and better information so we can make decisions about electricity consumption.

      • William Boardman

        Quite true, not all corporations are “greedy,” but they ARE all suspect, since turning a profit is part of corporate DNA.

        More to the point, you miss what seems to be the critical issue in this debate at the moment — that is the potential danger from a wireless meter mesh net, a potential danger to flora and fauna as well as humans, especially the economically more vulnerable.

        It strikes me as irresponsible and morally insufferable to go blithely forward as if none of this matters just because it hasn’t been conclusively researched. Research to date does indicate a variety of dangers.

        Keep in mind that the Vermont Electric Coop was the first Vermont utility to move toward the smart frid — and did so with WIRED meters.

        There is no way to know “the primary motivation” for all this, we can only know what people say and do. When it is such porous cheerleading as Deb Markowitz’s piece, it’s insane to take it seriously.

  • Kevin Jones

    I respectfully disagree with Senator Hartwell’s unsubstantiated criticisms of Smart Meters. I am surprised that those of us who have embraced the productivity benefits of digital technologies in our lives (from laptops to smart phones to iPods) ignore the need to bring the efficiency of digital technology to our electric distribution system which is vitally important to our personal lives and our economic competitiveness. There is well documented information on the benefits of smart meters in many areas including:

    1) Utility Operations – smart meters and associated automated technology will save money by reducing the need to send a truck up our private driveways to read our meters or to connect or disconnect our electric service. There will be reals savings in cost and the elimination of motor vehicle emissions. Furthermore utilities are able to automate the detection of customer outages as well as when those outages have been resolved which will improve the restoration of electric service. A benefit that those of us that lost electric service during crises such as Tropical Storm Irene should appreciate.

    2) Environmental Improvement – Studies funded by the U.S. Department of Energy have found that fully implementing currently available smart grid technology could reduce both energy consumption and green house gas emissions by 12% in 2030. The Environmental Defense Fund has estimated that reduced electric generation emissions as the result of smart grid technology will result in many more lives saved by reducing air pollution which to me seems to far outweigh any undocumented health effects from meter radio frequency radiation which is well below what a personal cell phone emits.

    Smart meters will not result in forced changes in our behavior or current electric rates. Those of us like myself who have net metered solar generation will continued to be paid the same for our net generation, although the utility will over time be able to give us more information about what our solar systems actually generated and will have better information to reliably manage their distribution system. Privacy in Vermont will not be threatened because our utilities and state regulators are ensuring that customer information remains protected.

    Individuals in Vermont do have the option to opt out but the reality is that everyone that opts out is limiting the systems ability to be more cost effective, as well as limiting the real benefits that this technology brings to our global environment. While the utilities are delivering this new technology to their customers it is all of us who will benefit in the future from more cost effective, reliable and cleaner energy. These are the well documented facts.

  • Jed Guertin


    There are smart meters and there are smart meters. And a smart person knows the difference.

    I’m all for smart metering. And the GMP system isn’t the “smart” metering I want.

    Come on Deb, you sound like you’ve been bought by the Gaz Metro/GMP/CVPS lobby.

    There’s a whole body of information on the potential problems with GMP ‘s “Smart meters.”

  • Meters that consume power can’t save power.

    For those of us who are accustomed to personally reading our analog meter that has been tested for accuracy by the utility, and have already whittled our power consumption down already, these new smart meters appear to be a giant waste of money.

    GMP and CVPS still do not know, or will admit they know what pulsed RF radiation is. Here’s a GMP (Elster REX2) meter that is transmitting almost constantly for 5 minutes:

    Can the environmentalists clearly explain why they want this many random pulses of 915 Mhz ISM RF radiation filling the air in and around their homes?

    What are the benefits?

  • As the CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative, where over 95% of our member (customers) already have smart meters, with our deployment that began in 2005, I can tell you that our members have already experienced significant benefits from this investment. We have cut our outages in 1/2 over the past few years, while doubling our responsiveness to outages during majors storms. We have eliminated over 3000 truck rolls annually, saving money for our members while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We have cut our systems losses by 15% (a 1.5% reduction in purchase power), a direct improvement on efficiency.

    We are now moving into a phase where this technology will be used to cut our transmission expenses through more effective utilization. We are calling this our “Beat the Peak” program.

    Our system paid for itself in less than 5 years with the savings and we expect it to last about twenty years.

    I could go on and on with the details and why I am so excited about this new network and its substantial potential. We have only scratched the surface in what can be done, including further optimization of our electric grid and interaction with energy storage to further enable intermittent resources to become base-load generation.

    I do understand that this is a long-term investment and it is difficult to to understand the complexities of our energy distribution system, therefore cynicism has a tendency to prevail. That is why I would be most happy to participate in any face to face discussions and provide additional information to anyone who would like.

    It will likely take 20 years before we fully realize all of the benefits. I believe the Smart Grid will someday be recognized as one of the most important and critical technologies in the history of the electric grid.

    David Hallquist
    CEO, Vermont Electric Cooperative

  • Alex Geller

    As David Hallquist has pointed out, Vermont Electric Cooperative is quite a bit ahead of the curve on rolling out the smart grid infrastructure, yet, they have “only scratched the surface in what can be done”. Perhaps the most significant contribution that a Vermont smart grid can provide is nothing short of facilitating a transformation to our largest greenhouse gas emission source – transportation. Transportation related emissions accounted for nearly 47% of total Vermont greenhouse gas emissions in 2008.

    Almost every day now, I see at least one electric vehicle on our roads. What is great about these vehicles, aside from the fact that they use no gasoline or diesel, is that they rely on our electric grid, which happens to be among the cleanest in our country because we rely heavily on energy sources that do not emit greenhouse gasses. However, what we would find if we did not upgrade our grid to a smart grid, and continued the adoption of electric or plug-in vehicles, would be similar to that of a very hot day, during which everybody turning on their A/C in the afternoon results in brownouts. Eventually, the smart grid will incentivize us with lower rates to charge our vehicles at night, when the supply of electricity is abundant and inexpensive.

  • There is a sucker born every minute, according to WC Fields. Especially those who are paid to cater to industry, which it looks like Deborah Markowitz, Secretary of ANR, is. Well, Deborah, I hate to burst your outrageous bubble of ignorance, but smart meters are DANGEROUS. You should resign or be fired, as you obviously aren’t up to protecting the environment or public health in Vermont, if you would say something like that.

    Hope to heck they don’t place YOUR smart meter on the other side of your headboard of your bed, as they did mine, so the RF radiation will constantly pulse into your brain as you sleep. Then you might be very very sorry to have the rotten thing on your house. Read my story: “Living Nightmare: How SDG&E Smart Meter Led to Headaches, Hearing Loss”

    For the Public Health Alert info on smart meters visit: Hear it from the experts, like the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, a national physician’s association with thousands of doctor-members, which thinks the health risk is very serious.

  • There are safer, smarter ways to upgrade the grid. I highly recommend Blake Levitt and Chellis Glendinning’s article – “Energy Bulletin: The Problem with Smart Grids”. Author and science writer for the NY Times, Blake testified during the VT Senate Finance Committee hearings on smart meters earlier this year. From billions in misspent tax dollars, health and environmental dangers ignored, diminished privacy and increased hacking/cyber threats, wasted energy and huge rate increases, fires, corporate strangleholds on a centralized grid, she examines the myriad downsides of an ill-conceived technology. It’s required reading for all, especially Deb Markowitz! If you disagree with the direction our energy policies are headed, say no to smart meters and opt out now!

  • Robert Hardt

    Agenda 21……Energy Sustainability….Rf energy causes Ca2+(Calcium ion) overload and mitochondria damage, resulting in weakened immune systems, cancer, brain diseases and childhood leukemias…..privacy violation and no realized energy savings, just massive corporate profits that integrate new technologies that we will be forced by a social agenda into having and accepting regardless of it’s truly mindless and ultimately deadly implementation.
    By the way commercial jet contrails cause over 60% of the Co2 greenhouse pollution globally, not to mention but I will, the So2 that they spew out diminishes sunlight, changes weather patterns…causes dramatic cooling/freezing/snow, droughts, floods, hail etc and our global governments are in favor of geoengineering applications to add more of these Jet aerosols into the stratosphere to quote ” Stop Global Warming” we need to all look at
    where the money goes and who really profits off these stupid and supposedly beneficial technologies!

    • Stefanie Costello

      Mr Hardt,

      I agree with you wholeheartedly! Every person in this state should be educated on Agenda 21. How about it VT Digger, will you please research and write an article on this plan?

  • rosemarie jackowski

    Just for the record…one Vermont family has just ‘abandoned’ their beautiful home and are now living in an old school bus. The reason, they say, – proximity to a cell phone tower that has made all in the family ill.

    Here is what another Vermonter says.

  • Robert Hardt

    Please research Agenda 21….and Depopulation…WiFi, RF, EMF, Melatonin depletion…sleep problems..cancer, ADHD. and brain tumors…these are all results of the smart grid technologies and the new age of electronics!!!!!