Legal challenge to smart meters
December 29, 2010
If you haven’t already, you will soon receive a notice from PG&E announcing the installation of a wireless smart meter on your home. The proposed benefits might sound good–a way to get more specific information about our energy use, so we can make more informed choices about how to save energy.
Why then, does The New York Times report that opposition to smart meters is sweeping the nation? And Bloomberg Business Week states, “Duke Energy’s proposal to install 800,000 (such meters) in Indiana was rejected by regulators because the cost of the project would outweigh potential benefits to consumers.”
Here in California, residents of Bakersfield filed a class action suit against PG&E for substantial billing increases after smart meters were installed. California Senator Dean Florez, the majority Democratic leader in the Senate, demanded a halt to smart meter installations. “People think these meters are fraud meters,” said Florez. “They feel they’re being defrauded. They’re getting no benefit from these things.”
In California alone, 23 Cities (including Morro Bay) and three counties have formally opposed the wireless PG&E smart meters.
Also at the forefront of homeowners’ concerns are alleged public health risks of radio frequency radiation emitted by smart meters. Cindy Sage, co-editor of the Bioinitiative Report, states the World Health Organization (WHO) does not give an assurance of safety for current radio frequency radiation exposure limits set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), rather, the WHO is in the process of deciding if radio frequency is a carcinogen or neurotoxin. WHO is not going to have a formal report until late next year.
Supporters of smart meters compare radio frequency radiation exposure from smart meters (two feet away) to cell phones at the head (which has 3.2 -1.100 times more radiofrequency), laptops (1.1 – 2.2 times more) and microwave ovens (two inches from door 550 times more).
However, opponents say this is a tactic the industry uses to minimize the radiofrequency impact from smart meters—which cannot be turned off by consumers—unlike the other devices. It also assumes there is no harm from cell phones, laptops and microwave ovens—which are used for shorter periods of time. People who report illness from radio frequency exposure avoid all these types of devices. Prudent avoidance of electromagnetic radiation has been adopted in Australia, Sweden and several U.S. states including California, Colorado, Hawaii, New York, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin.
Opponents also say that smart meters violate one or more FCC conditions for radio frequency exposure compliance—one example is co-locating meters in conjunction with other antennas or transmitters.
Neurological symptoms from exposure to radio frequency include headaches, difficulty falling asleep, sleep disturbances, disorientation and general malaise, cardiac symptoms such as rapid heart rate and irregular heart beat known as arrhythmia. Continued emission exposure can also compromise the immune system and make one susceptible to disease and illness.
Consumer groups are concerned the wireless smart meter grid will not be secure. In a recent regulatory filing, the Consumer Federation of California attacked the position of investor owned utilities seeking to avoid regulatory liability for abuses of private consumer data taken from smart meters by non-utility third parties.
Opponents also say PG&E admitted smart meters interfere with arc fault interrupters, designed to protect against fires, and household electronics.
On November 18, 2010, the California Public Utilities Commission Division of Ratepayers Advocates called for an investigation into alleged public health hazards with PG&E smart meters. The announcement read, “Unless the public’s concerns can be put to rest, there is a very great risk that PG&E’s smart meter deployment will turn out to be a $2.2 billion mistake ratepayers can ill afford.” The next day, the commission announced its investigation into consumer complaints.
On December 6, Assemblymember Jared Huffman (D – San Rafael) introduced Assembly Bill 37, which requires the commission to allow customers to opt-out of the wireless smart meters and provides for a wired alternative. Huffman also requested the California Council on Science and Technology examine the federal limits on radiation from wireless devices, including smart meters, to determine if they adequately protect the public.
Alternative systems exist, which are wired, making them “cleaner,” more secure and safer. Many businesses, multi-residential units, and cities such as Chattanooga are using them.
If you want the wired option: Urge San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors (firstname.lastname@example.org, (805) 781-5450), and our elected officials to support Assembly Bill 37, and to halt the installation of wireless smart meters until AB 37 is enacted into law. Write a letter to Huffman and express support for AB 37 (email@example.com.
Ask PG&E to delay installation on your home: 1 (866) 743-0263. Learn more at: emfsafetynetwork.org
Judy Vick is a community activist and former candidate for county supervisor. Judy is a licensed marriage and family therapist, and the patients’ rights advocate for San Luis Obispo County Behavioral Health. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org and Facebook page: Stop smart meters SLO County.