Con Edison has been giving Inwood resident Andrew Kaufman a major headache over the past few weeks. His apartment is one of the many housing units where Con Ed is trying to install in-unit smart meter upgrades. Due to concerns about maintenance workers potentially spreading COVID-19, Kaufman opted out. But Con Ed didn’t make it it easy for him.
“I’ve been given consistently misleading and contradictory information by Con Ed representatives and supervisors during a series of calls to their dedicated phone number for questions concerning smart meters and their installation,” said Kaufman. “This is in addition to intimidating emails and notices posted in our building ordering customers to make an appointment to have meters installed in our homes and stating that failure to do so will result in a $100 surcharge added to our utility bills. There’s not a word about other options, even on a day like those we’ve been having when the country and our city are suffering ever higher numbers of COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations, and diagnoses. It’s just not responsible.”
Kaufman relayed his story at a virtual press conference last week, hosted by State Senator Robert Jackson (D-Washington Heights, Inwood).
The rally took place on Zoom last Friday from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Along with Jackson, the conference saw appearances from Assemblymembers Carmen De La Rosa (D-Upper Manhattan), Al Taylor (D-Hamilton Heights, Harlem) and Richard Gottfried (D-Chelsea, Midtown), and State Senators Brian Kavanagh (D-Upper East Side) and Liz Krueger (D-Upper East Side, Lenox Hill).
“When I learned about this situation from my constituent Mr. Kaufman in September, I thought for sure there must be some mistake,” said Jackson. “For ConEd contractors to be performing mandatory installations in people’s homes during this ever-worsening pandemic without clear recourse for opting out at no charge is crazy! I think of all the people who are at a higher risk for COVID-19 in my district letting these companies into their homes because they don’t think they have an alternative. It is not acceptable.”
For months, ConEd contractors Aclara Smart Grid Solutions and Precision Pipeline Solutions have been going from house to house to install Smart Meters. The devices provide readings on your energy usage, allowing residents to make decisions to reduce their carbon footprint.
Jackson and his peers made it clear that they have no problem with the devices per se. In any other time, they would wholeheartedly support their installation. The problem is that the contractors are installing them directly in residents’ living spaces, with no COVID-19 testing protocol in place. To make matters worse, tenants who refuse access to their apartments have to pay a $100 surcharge.
“From the beginning of this crisis, one of the main public health interventions we’ve had is to tell people to stay home,” said Kavanagh. “We know that there’s some reason for optimism; vaccines are beginning to roll out. We see the light at the end of the tunnel. But this is not a time for business as usual. This is not the time to be telling people that they must let people into their homes to do something that is basically pretty routine.”
The issue, said Carmen De La Rosa, is especially problematic for Inwood, which has one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in the City.
“Inwood, in my district, has a high infection rate, and we already know that there is a new variant of COVID-19 that is far more contagious,” she said. “That variant is already in New York. In Inwood, we have lost over 500 neighbors to COVID-19. There is no reason to continue to risk the lives of people, simply for the installation of these meters.”
Richard Gottfried concurred, pointing out that the installations, while helpful, are in no way essential or urgent.
“Con Ed doesn’t have an emergency here, on their part,” said Gottfried. “They put off doing this work for quite a while. They can put it off again. The health and well-being of New Yorkers is a whole lot more important than the convenience of a giant corporation like Con Ed.”
The electeds wrote a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) about the issue last month; thus far, they have received no response. At the conference, they called on Cuomo to write an Executive Order forcing Con Ed to postpone the installations.
During his time on the floor, Kaufman made a direct appeal to Governor Cuomo – pointing out that he, too, has a stake in the issue.
“The Governor’s mother recently celebrated her 90th birthday,” said Kaufman. “Governor Cuomo, would you find it acceptable – if your mother were living in a cramped New York City apartment – to force her to have technicians, who have been into 650 apartments over the course of a month, come into her apartment, under these current circumstances? I would think not. I am shocked, Governor Cuomo, that you have left residents of New York City in this position.”