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Electricity smart meter fight not over, Bristol neighbors say

Special to the Union Leader

October 08. 2012 10:21PM

BRISTOL - A setback last spring in a New Hampshire courtroom has not discouraged a group of residents who oppose the installation of so-called 'smart meters' on their homes.

In fact, Joan Wirth of Bristol, founder of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Smart Meters, said support for their position is growing.

'This is not just Bristol anymore. This is all across the state. This is from Nottingham to Sugar Hill,' said Wirth, one of several neighbors on Hundred Acre Woods Road in Bristol who went to court last spring in an unsuccessful bid to establish their right to keep New Hampshire Electric Cooperative from installing the devices.

At a hearing last March in Grafton County Superior Court in North Haverhill, three of about a dozen neighbors told Judge Peter H. Bornstein that they feared negative health effects from radio frequency radiation emitted by the meters, which measure co-op members' electricity use.

But after considering the matter for a month, Bornstein rejected the neighbors' petition for an injunction on jurisdictional grounds, saying federal law takes precedence over New Hampshire law.

The judge said the Federal Communications Commission has, since 1985, had 'exclusive authority to set health standards on the effects of RFR emissions.' He said in his nine-page decision a case by the neighbors at the state level would likely fail on its merits.

But Rep. Paul Simard, R-Bristol, said Monday he believes a legal look at the meters on more than just jurisdictional issues is due. He said safety and privacy are also concerns. Co-op officials say the devices will be used primarily to gather data from co-op members' homes and businesses for billing purposes and relay it to NHEC headquarters in Plymouth.

But Simard said the meters are capable of gathering a wide range of information from private homes, a fact that's not being made known to most consumers.

'We don't even know at this point what they're capable of doing. There are privacy issues related to the sale of information, and what else that information will be used for,' he said.

An attorney for the co-op said in court last spring that the 'smart meter' installations throughout its 80,000-member New Hampshire grid were at the center of a $35 million NHEC equipment and services upgrade which included funding from a U.S. Department of Energy grant of nearly $16 million. The installations are scheduled for completion next spring.

Wirth said Monday that the meters had not yet reached all homes on Hundred Acre Woods Road.

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