Smart Meters: More Clear Opposition 2

An extended version, with links to sources and studies, of the letter to the Editor published by the Glendale News-Press on Sunday:

Smart meters aren’t worth the money we’ve spent and will spend on them, they may pose long-term public health risks we don’t know about yet, their wireless transmissions are more vulnerable to hacking than a wired network, and their roll-out is premature.

A total of 43 city and county governments in California have taken action to oppose smart meters in their communities, while 13 have adopted ordinances or moratoriums making installations illegal. Residents in some communities have formed barricades and risked arrest to prevent installations. (Here is a report of a San Diego protest just last week.) Other states are considering opt-out provisions as is the California Public Utilities Commission, due to sustained citizen outcry. Two weeks ago, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to send a letter to the CPUC requesting a free opt-out option (the list of city and county governments linked to above does not include Santa Barbara County). Last week, the Buellton City Council voted to do the same.

Glendale Water and Power says that it will consider an opt-out program, but that customers who opt out will likely pay extra fees each month. Why? Citizens have many valid objections to smart meters that have not been fully addressed. Those who opt out of smart meter installations shouldn’t be charged a penny extra if they refuse a product that isn’t proven to be safe and secure, or truly effective in its stated purpose of conserving energy.

Selected smart meter programs around the country have been subsidized by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. Yes, the installation jobs “trickle down” and yes, technicians in Glendale are being trained and employed to do this work, but those reaping the greatest benefits are the businesses who developed and manufacture the devices and technology and the utilities who install them. Glendale taxpayers have footed their share of approximately $4 billion to subsidize installation of smart meters and their networks around the country; $20 million of that was awarded to GWP in a federal grant. The program will cost Glendale an estimated $71 million (see page 66 of the GWP budget report), leaving a $50 million balance GWP will have to recover, most of it likely from ratepayers. That is a great deal of money for a technology that primarily benefits the utility organization, which will use it to balance demand and set tiered pricing in the years ahead as more people drive electric cars and recharge them at night.

While the smart grid is something we need to build, smart meters are an exercise in micromanagement. The whole pitch to customers falls short. I don’t need or want another electronic device or software giving me this information. If I want to save on my electric bill, I’ll turn off the lights or unplug some appliances. Smart meters don’t conserve energy directly and their touted energy conservation incentives are unproven. Smart meters do send radiowaves inside buildings day and night to collect detailed electricity usage information from appliances. Older appliances that lack meter communication radios installed won’t provide that data. Property owners who want to keep additional sources of radio frequency energy out of their homes will not be able to switch off the incoming signals. Smart meters also transmit detailed usage data on each customer to the utility via a dedicated wireless “mesh” network.

As a private citizen focused on cell tower issues when the smart meter proposal surfaced two years ago, I wondered why the city was pursuing this initiative when residents had expressed concerns about the proliferation of wireless technology transmissions, and Glendale City Council had sent a comment to the FCC, stating that local jurisdictions were concerned about the reliability of federal standards for long-term exposure to radiofrequency emissions.

Such concerns are often dismissed by industry and utility interests. Glenn Steiger’s letter to the Glendale News-Press last week states that “these concerns are based on unfounded reports and claims found on the Internet that have no scientific support.” Here’s a video found on the Internet, of Harvard-trained M.D. and Dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Albany David Carpenter commenting on smart meters. Excerpt – “The question to ask them is: ‘What is the evidence that smart meters are safe?’ And the answer to that question is: ‘There is none.'”

Also found on the Internet is the GWP website smart meter FAQ page, which states: “the amount of RF energy emitted by smart meters is not harmful.” That is not a known fact, just an assertion based on lack of evidence to date. The webpage contains links to more studies found on the Internet, including a commissioned report from the California Council on Science and Technology, which GWP says backs claims that smart meters pose no harm. There are detailed rebuttals to these studies not listed on GWP’s website. In fact, the Division of Ratepayer Advocates, a California state agency, criticized the CCST’s report for not considering findings from a set of studies known as the Bioinitiative Report. Here are excerpts from several other critiques of the CCST smart meter report. [Reader alert: the rest of the sources linked to in this paragraph are difficult to follow unless you have an electrical engineering background.] GWP links to two Electric Power Research Institute documents which discuss estimates of radio frequency exposures from smart meters; the later document responds to criticism of EPRI’s methodology and findings. GWP doesn’t provide the link to that criticism (here it is: Assessment of Radiofrequency Microwave Radiation Emissions from Smart Meters) or to the response Sage Associates drafted to EPRI’s response (here it is: Sage Associates Response).

The technical details are challenging. Here are two points the general public can easily understand:
1. Smart meters are controlled by the utility and operate 24/7, while other transmitting devices like cell phones and wi-fi can be switched off if users have concerns;
2. It is industry professionals who are trying to persuade us that the blanketing of our home, business, school, commercial and community environments with wireless transmissions is harmless.

There are significant privacy concerns with smart meters. Proposed CPUC Rules to Protect the Privacy and Security of Electricity Usage Data were just released July 1. Network security is another concern. Smart meter networks are being deployed before these issues have been worked out.

If the smart grid – a separate national project to transmit electricity efficiently where it is needed – requires detailed information on every customer’s appliance and energy usage, that information should be transmitted securely over fiber optic wires, but a more secure wired network is far too expensive at this time.

Our nation’s utilities should be investing in a higher-priority goal: developing sustainable, secure sources of energy and the means to efficiently transmit electricity wherever it is needed. Instead, taxpayers are on the hook for an expensive micromanagement project that doesn’t address this priority. Just because smart meters were “shovel ready” doesn’t mean they were a good investment. If they were, wouldn’t the utilities have been able to sell these devices to their customers? GWP’s push to install smart meters isn’t in the best interests of its customers, the taxpayers and ratepayers of Glendale.

Other resources:
Burbank ACTION (Against Cell Towers in our Neighborhood) Wireless Smart Meter Concerns

Stop Smart Meters

The Growing Movement Against Electromagnetic Radiation

The Problems with Smart Grids

Think Twice About Smart Meters – letter to the Editor, July 1, 2011, Portland Daily Sun (Maine)

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