RIDGWAY BRIEFS
Uproar Over SMPA Smart Meters
by Peter Shelton
Sep 22, 2011 | 902 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The way Jeanne McDonnell described it to Ridgway’s town council last Wednesday night, we all could be living soon in a thrumming grid of dangerous radio waves, courtesy of San Miguel Power Association and the “smart meters” they plan to install on all of their customers’ homes and businesses.

The fact that SMPA was set to begin installing the new meters beginning in October, starting in Silverton, caught many in the audience unaware, including the three Ouray County commissioners, who were there to renew their annual intergovernmental agreement with the Town of Ridgway.

McDonnell’s complaints, on top of SMPA’s poor public awareness effort, fell into two categories, health and privacy issues. McDonnell is chemically and electrically sensitive, and worried that electromagnetic radiation from the devices could cause everything from headaches to cancer. She cited thousands of complaints and lawsuits in California and elsewhere, where so-called smart meters have been installed, and told council that she was “here in my canary capacity” to warn about what she felt were serious health risks.

On the privacy front, she was concerned that the devices would be capable of discerning and transmitting information regarding which electrical appliances were being used inside a home, and at precisely what time of day – an intrusion, she said, that would be “invasive” and “counter to our civil liberties.”

Councilmember Ellen Hunter said, “Well, I guess I’m going to have start learning.”

Commissioner Lynn Padgett said, “I’m grateful I got to hear this,” and promised to bring the topic up at a scheduled Monday meeting between commissioners and SMPA staff.

Mayor Pro Tem John Clark said, “I’m not concerned about the degree of danger. But I am concerned. It’s really kind of interesting that there has been so little discussion about this.”

As it happened, the next meeting of SMPA’s board of directors occurred on Tuesday, Sept. 20. Between 30 and 40 citizen customers, including McDonnell, Hunt and Clark, crammed into the small boardroom to listen and comment.

SMPA’s Manager of Member Services and Marketing Brad Zaporski started off with a Power Point presentation that directly countered McDonnell’s fears. To begin with, Zaporski said, “after two years of analysis, we have chosen the TWACS system of smart metering.” TWACS stands for Two-Way Automatic Communication System. “It’s not at all the same” as the Wi-Fi smart meter systems being contested in California.

There are no radio waves at all, he said. “The measuring of your electric consumption is transmitted back to us, at the office, once a day over existing powerlines. There will be no more radiation emitted from the new meters than there was with the old analogue ones.”

It’s a proven technology, Zaporski said, that’s been around since the 1980s and is currently being used in 12 million meters in 42 states. He then put up a slide that showed the difference in radiation exposure from a typical microwave oven versus that from a TWACS smart meter. The microwave emits 500,000,000 (five hundred million) times the radiation the meter does.

As for privacy, Zaporski said, “There is no way to hack the ones and zeroes” flowing along the sine wave current in the powerlines. “There is no wireless radio frequency” for a potential criminal to intercept.

And although the capability does exist, he said, for smart meters to “read” the power demands of individual appliances – TVs, washer-dryers, etc., that have been “appliance enabled” – Zaporski said SMPA has no plans to do anything but measure total power use on a daily basis.

McDonnell was not assuaged. She said, “This [meeting] should have happened a long time ago.” And she called for the ability of individuals to “opt out” of the new meters. “Microwaves, cell phones are choices. You’re not giving us a choice.” (Board Vice President Jerry Hoffer, of Silverton, said the board would be discussing an opt-out possibility later in the meeting.)

McDonnell disputed the notion that any level of radiation was harmless. “I don’t think we’re erring on the precautionary side here,” she said.

To that end, she and numerous other speakers called for a moratorium of at least a year before SMPA begins installing the meters.

John Clark sounded a conciliatory note. “I’m encouraged by the TWACS system. There will be no additional radiation beyond what the current meters emit. I am concerned about the privacy issues – Big Brother monitoring our electrical appliances. But the reduction in carbon footprint is a huge environmental benefit.” (With the new meters, Zaporski had said, SMPA will be able to eliminate the miles driven for the monthly reading of over 13,500 meters “from the Utah border to Telluride to Silverton. Think of the savings in diesel and rubber.”)

With that, the board moved into executive session, and the animated crowd filed out of the building.

MMJ MORATORIUM UPHELD

Medical marijuana grower and dispensary owner Chris Sanchez came before the Ridgway town council once more last Wednesday to try to convince the town to lift its moratorium on MMJ facilities.

State law allows a licensed dispensary that has been banned in one jurisdiction to relocate in another, provided it is welcome. Sanchez wants to transfer a banned shop from Crawford to Ridgway.

Sanchez said that he “would employ two to three employees here. And we currently employ two to three at the grow op.” He cited “keeping the product local” and providing for patients who have lost access to MMJ.

A second dispensary owner, John Thomas, whose shop in Delta had recently been “shot down,” spoke as well, saying that he had “120 patients, and 60 of them would drive up here” to Ridgway to fill their prescriptions if the moratorium were lifted.

A third speaker, a cardholder from Delta, commented: “With the hot springs and health consciousness in this area, maybe it [MMJ] can be tied together rather than demonized.”

Councilor Rich Durnan said, “I have sympathy for the patients, but I don’t see the two to three months’ benefit [before Ridgway’s moratorium ends July 1, 2012] is worth it.”

Councilor Rick Weaver added, “The state may very well change their regulations between now and then. And if I’m not mistaken, there’s been a robbery [of a home grow-op] in Norwood, so there are security issues.”

Without needing to take a vote, Mayor Pro Tem John Clark ended the discussion by saying, “I think we have consensus to keep the status quo.”

COMMITTEE TO DRAFT RESPONSE TO ‘FORMULA STORES’

Mayor Pro Tem John Clark, chairing the regular meeting of the Ridgway Town Council in the absence of Mayor Willits, proposed on Wednesday (Sept. 14) that a committee be formed to look into “formula stores” and the town’s response to them.

“The term was new to me,” Clark said. “But in researching, including talking with folks who have opposed the Family Dollar store, I have learned that Walmart is planning little community stores, 3,000-4,000 square feet. It alarmed me and people I know.”

Ridgway’s 10,000 square-foot maximum, designed to discourage “big box” stores from moving in, “isn’t going to do what we want it to do” in the future, Clark said. “Given the economy, the only economic development that is happening is the formula stores come in and compete.

“I’d like to see us look at more creative restrictions. Form a committee to look at the specifics of codes in Washington and California, things that could serve as a discouragement, while still allowing them to come if they meet our design standards. And instruct staff to draft something and bring it back to us. Anybody want to join me on the committee?”

Councilmember Eric Johnson said, “I think there would be public will for this, given the opposition to the Family Dollar store.”

TOWN TO BUILD PERMANENT STAGE IN THE PARK

Ridgway Town Clerk Pam Kraft delivered some good news to the September council meeting last Wednesday: the Town’s in-the-park, Thursday-night concert series was such a hit this summer that the concert committee wants to build a permanent stage in Hartwell Park.

“We spent $27,394 on the four concerts,” Kraft reported, “but we now have a forward balance of $12,000. We’d like to use that as a start to build a permanent stage.” She wanted everyone to know about a fundraiser in the park on Saturday, Oct. 22 to try to add to the stage fund.

Mayor Pro Tem John Clark thanked Kraft for all her work on the concert series, and added, tongue in cheek: “We keep trying to get her to let us help more, but she’s too much of a control freak.”

“It’s working,” Town Manager Jen Coates said, holding aloft the balance sheet.
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