Burlington Voters Approve Smart Grid/Smart Meter Bond

by Angela Chagnon

After Burlington’s special election results revealed that the Burlington Electric Department’s $13.5 million bond request had been approved 1,808 to 1,176, the Burlington Free Press ran a story describing the celebratory mood of the measure’s supporters.

“When news of Burlington’s approval of a smart-grid bond vote reached Church Street on Tuesday night, a gathering of supporters raised glasses, tucked away calculators and eased more comfortably into cafe seats. …. Burlington Electric Department General Manager Barbara Grimes said the victory justified the 108-year-old utility’s first-ever post-bond-vote party. A dozen or so scattered supporters heartily agreed.

Scott Moody, a Burlington Electric board commissioner, kept it simple: “This is a victory for the ratepayers of Burlington.”

Past bond items for BED have been General Obligation Bonds, which require a ⅔ majority vote to pass. This time, BED managed to get a Revenue Bond on the ballot that only required a simple majority vote.

While BED parties it up, some ratepayers in Burlington are disappointed that a project they view as unnecessary is going forward. Even more disappointing were the numbers that showed up at the polls — only 15 percent of BED’s roughly 20,000 customers cast a vote Tuesday.

MJ Farmer, a former electric utility engineer and Burlington resident, expressed her disappointment with the low voter turnout. “This vote will replace all electric meters in Burlington with wireless meters,” she said. “Less than three thousand people voted.”

Farmer does not share Moody’s positive outlook on the outcome of the vote, and says she expects the transition to Smart Meters to be anything but a smooth one.

“I predict problems with installations, much higher installation costs, and much higher utility bills,” she stated. “I think they will soon be known as ‘dumb meters’.”

Lea Terhune, a Burlington resident and outspoken opponent of the bond, plans to keep a close eye on BED’s claims regarding the Smart Meters.

“Trust, but verify,” says Terhune. “A ratepayers’ advantage study club is forming to verify that smart meters are purchased, deployed and used in ways that clearly benefit ratepayers.

“We will follow several issues raised during the campaign, including but not limited to the budget (projections and actual), developing technology and standards, privacy protection, data ownership, health risks, the provision for people to opt out without penalty, and other matters related to ratepayers’ advantage,” Terhune continues. “We are actively recruiting people with subject matter expertise, and will begin meeting immediately.”