When discussing the latest version of 'smart' electric meters, Belmont resident and former Harvard economics professor Gary Fauth said using the most up-to-date technology to track household electricity consumption will "lower costs for everybody; poor people, rich people."
An expert and consultant for the newest meters, Fauth gave his "sales pitch" to the environmentally conscious Sustainable Belmont committee at the groups schedule meeting, Wednesday, Dec. 8.
He told the committee he wants to lower Belmont's electricity costs, hoping to enlighten residents on the new technology because it is "a good fit for the town."
Fauth is involved in nearly half the smart meter projects in the United States today, including Pacific Gas and Electric's (PG&E) mega project in California that has installed eight million new meters and is in the process of adding two million more.
Fauth said Belmont could readily pick up this new technology because of the structure of the town's municipal electric company.
"You have a nimble, agile light department that is open to doing this. So it is exciting," he said.
And the is in the process of launching 2,000 smart meters as part of a pilot project.
Fauth said that every Belmont household would need to install the new meters in order to fully realize the potential of the technology.
"The 'big bang' will happen when everyone in town is on-board in order to reach the long-term goal of paying lower rates," said Fauth.
A smart meter reads and calculates consumption on an hourly basis and can communicate with other machines making it remotely accessible.
Currently, BMLD purchases electricity at different rates that fluctuate depending on the time of day, month or season. Since the department does not know exactly when customers are using the electricity, the real-time prices are not passed on to the consumer. Instead, everyone pays a flat rate that is adjusted for peaks and valleys in the market price.
"(Electricity) is about twenty cents a kilowatt hour, so basically you are selling electricity for one price no matter what you do. That is a crazy way because there are days in July when that electricity is precious. There are other times, like cool evenings in June when businesses are closed when no energy is needed and the electricity is practically free on the market," he explained
Fauth said a new rate structure available with smart meters encourages consumers to use power at different times of the day. He pointed to California as an example where customers are getting rebates for not using electricity at peak times.
"They shave peak hour electricity by 10 percent and the costs they have to buy therefore are reduced and they can cut the cost for everybody by implementing the program," said Fauth.
"The key is they have to know when you are using the electricity, and the only way to know is to put smart meters in," he said.
Fauth said that smart meters can do what the current meters can't: Monitor voltage, distinguish timing electricity consumption, send outage alerts, disconnect and reconnect power, send usage information to in-home displays, control appliances and thermostats.
The cost to install the most modern meter is between $150 and $200 and said there are no grants available to fund it.
However, he said, the meter would pay for itself in four or five years.
He explained that Belmont residents would be rightfully resistant to installing the meters after the town recently spent approximately $1 million to install a drive-by-system.
Also citizens around the country have raised concerns over privacy and health as the meters communicate through radio frequency waves. Fauth said some people have reported sensitivity to radio waves and there is anxiety that anyone could hack into the system.
Co-Chairman of the Energy Committee Roger Colton asked members to be careful before deciding to support meters for town-wide use.
"Keep an open mind whether they are the way to go for Belmont. The industry has tied them into the environmental movement, but there are some consumer issues that you should hear before you make a decision," warned Colton.
BMLD Interim General Manager James Palmer said the Board of Selectmen approved the pilot use of the system, and that they want to make a responsible decision before getting on board with a town-wide project.
He said that the BMLD is ready if the smart meters are to be used in Belmont.
"We are prepared for the billing structure and installing fiber optics in town to beef up the network," said Palmer.
Operations Manager Ed Crisafi said BMLD is open to learning about the technology and wants to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to electricity. He welcomed Fauth's invitation to visit a smart plant in Maine and to have further discussions about it.
Colton agreed to organize an information session for the group so that they could hear the other-side of the argument before making an informed decision.