By Chris Collins
Ron Edge is preparing to go off the power grid.
The Baker City man has stocked up on candles and matches, and he's looking into buying a natural-gas generator to provide power to his home at Third Street and Court Avenue.
Edge's actions are in protest to the insistence of the Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative that a "smart meter" must be installed to replace the analog meter the co-op has used to monitor his past power consumption.
According to OTEC, the smart meters don't need to be read by an employee but instead use "a combination of power line carrier and Internet communications," not radio frequency, to automatically send information about a customer's power usage from each home or business to the OTEC office "almost instantly" - improving service and saving money for OTEC and its customers.
But Edge just isn't interested.
"I have no intention of accepting that meter," he says.
Edge is concerned about the negative effects the meter might have on his health and on the health of others in his home, and he's worried about how the power company might use the information gleaned by smart meters.
If the power is disconnected from the home where he's lived for 18 years - as OTEC says it will do if he refuses to allow the smart meter to be installed - Edge says he'll rely on two heatingstoves powered by natural gas.
But their effectiveness will be limited because they rely on electricity to run the fan that pushes the heat throughout the house.
His kitchen range is gas-powered, and he can light it with a match.
He'll have to give up his land-line telephone service if the power is cut.
The 67-year-old, who served in the airborne infantry during the Vietnam War, says he's not worried about the challenges he'll face by going off the grid.
"I can definitely work through this," he said. "I'm tired of seeing business and government dictate to people."
Edge and his wife, Jan, have another home in Lakeview where their daughter, Jury, and her family live also. Jan divides her time between the two homes.
Ron retired from Ash Grove Cement Co. near Durkee about six years ago after working for the company for 23 years as a purchasing agent.
"I'm the only one here at this house," he said. "I'm in a unique situation and I'm in the state of mind just to tell them to go to hell."
Edge says he'll wait and see how the situation plays out, but he's prepared to take legal action if necessary.
"OTEC has chosen to kick a sleeping dog, so to speak, and that's the way it is" he said. "OTEC has been arrogant and won't even entertain any options."
He took his concerns to the May 22 OTEC Board meeting where he said directors told him they had researched the issues and did not believe the new meters pose a health hazard. Edge said the directors also told him that information transmitted from customer homes to OTEC would be kept confidential.
"I've heard this story before," Edge says, recounting the health problems he's experienced since serving in Vietnam, including a central nervous system disorder, liver problems and a bladder cancer diagnosis while in his 30s.
He attributes his health issues to Agent Orange, which he was exposed to in 1968, a period when he says especially large amounts of the defoliant were being dumped in the jungles of Vietnam.
Edge receives a small combat-related disability check, but he says, "the VA tells me, 'nah, it's not related (to Agent Orange exposure).' "
He's not willing to put himself or his family at risk again.
"I guess I'm a little gun shy," Edge says. "I haven't been around it, and I don't want to be around it," he says of the smart meter transmissions.
"I don't want to take that chance."
After meeting with the OTEC Board, Edge waited to hear whether he would be allowed to keep his existing meter.
"They've got about 30,000 people who've allowed this. I don't think I'm asking too much to leave me the way that I am," he said.
In the meantime, Edge also contacted Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, with his concerns and he continued talking with Chuck Hofmann of Baker City, OTEC Board president, who was coordinating communications between Edge and the utility.
Edge said he received his answer late last week when an OTEC employee came to his door saying "I see you've decided to go ahead with a smart meter."
Edge informed him that this was not the case.
"This has been a personal thing with me," he said. "I haven't been out pounding the pavement and trying to cause a commotion in the community, but if they cut my power off, maybe I will be."
Edge says his concerns are based on information he's gleaned from reports he's read from doctors and engineers in the industry who are concerned about health problems ranging from unexplained headaches to heart palpitations, ringing in the ears and skin problems, and he points to Internet sites that refer to other areas of the country where people have been allowed to opt-out of the smart meter system.
He wasn't aware of the issues related to possible surveillance of homes using the information provided by the smart meters until he looked into the matter further.
"I tried to let them know I'm not interested," he said. "The next thing I know, they're at my door."
Next to visit Edge was Steve Schauer, OTEC member and program services manager, who told him the only option if he chose not to accept the smart meter would be to lose his electrical service. Schauer reiterated OTEC's position in writing in a letter dated Sept. 14.
Schauer explained that all metering equipment is owned by OTEC and that as a condition of providing service to its members, OTEC employees have the right to go onto a member's property "to construct, maintain and remove our equipment."
Schauer wrote that the OTEC Board believes that replacing the analog meters with the new smart meters is best for the cooperative and its members.
"As a result, OTEC intends to change out the meter at your property on or after September 18, 2012. If you deny OTEC access to your property to perform this work, your electrical service will be discontinued," Schauer stated.
On Tuesday, Edge and Schauer met again to consider a possible compromise.
Schauer proposed placing the meter on a post farther from Edge's house, something that Edge says he'll consider.
"I'm going to be open-minded about it," he said, adding that he'll continue doing his own research to see if moving the meter would allay the possible health concerns.
"I can't go by what OTEC tells me," he said.
Edge added that he's in no rush to deliver his decision to OTEC on the matter.
"I will be as courteous and responsive to them as they have been to me," he said. "That would give me about six months."