How can something so intelligent cause such uproar?
California is tangled up in a controversy involving Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E)’s latest energy-monitoring gadget, the SmartMeter.
The SmartMeter is PG&E’s way of “connecting the energy business with the 21st century” by using wireless technology to read electric and gas usage. The SmartMeter is able to report usage data to PG&E every hour, eliminating the need for meter readers and enhancing their ability to access updated account information.
Santa Cruz leaders recently made their opinions of the new “energy-saving” devices clear when the Board of Supervisors opposed the implementation of Smart Meters in June, and the Santa Cruz City Council made the decision to support San Francisco’s lawsuit against the installation of the Smart Meters. With petitions circling, moratoriums being instated, and the debate over the future of California’s energy heating up, Good Times sat down with a handful of local players to hear out the perspectives surrounding the SmartMeter controversy.
GT: What are some of the major concerns about from PG&E’s Smart Meters?
Assemblymember Bill Monning, representing California’s 27th Assembly District: There are four main concerns being raised: billing, accuracy, privacy and health impacts. In my opinion, PG&E did not sufficiently engage and educate its customers prior to the deployment of SmartMeters. This, coupled with reports of dramatically increased utility bills, has caused PG&E customers across the state to question the validity and merits of this new technology.
Tammie Donnelly, local petitioner against Smart Meters: Electromagnetic radiation, among other concerns like higher electrical bills, interference problems, fire hazards, privacy invasion and lost jobs.
Paul Moreno, PG&E spokesperson: Some customers have expressed concerns about higher bills and whether the new meters are recording their energy usage correctly. We want them to know that SmartMeter devices are more than 99 percent accurate and that the metering technology that calculates energy use has been around and in use since the 1980s.
Joshua Hart, co-founder of Scotts Valley Neighbors Against Smart Meters: One of the largest rollouts of technology in history—a $2.2 billion dollar project—has been approved with virtually no public consultation, and barely any notification.
GT: How effective have the lawsuits, petitions, moratoriums and general public input been? How is PG&E responding?
Monning: The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has regulatory authority over PG&E and supervises smart grid deployment plans. In response to consumer complaints about inaccuracies and inconsistencies with the SmartMeters, the CPUC is conducting an independent third-party evaluation focusing on customer criticisms, and evaluating the overall SmartMeter program. The findings of this independent investigation will allow the CPUC and policymakers to hold PG&E accountable for substantiated errors and inconsistencies.
Moreno/PG&E: We are committed to rebuilding customer confidence in our SmartMeter program. We are responding to concerns by working more closely with communities to discuss the benefits of our SmartMeter technology. Regarding the lawsuit, Fores v. PG&E, the judge issued a decision to delay further proceedings until the CPUC independent third party evaluation is completed. We have wholeheartedly supported this evaluation.
Hart: The decision by the city councils of Capitola and Scotts Valley to sign on to petition to the CPUC to halt the meter roll-out on the basis of health and accuracy has made waves statewide.
GT: What are the specific health and safety risks, and how can they be addressed?
Donnelly: This is electro-smog. Exposure to electro-smog has been documented to have major biological effects on living tissue: DNA breaks sleep disturbance, memory loss, headaches, chest pain, heart palpitations, memory loss, premature aging, learning impairment, fatigue and reduction in melatonin secretion and cancers. Having a SmartMeter on my home back in January caused me many health challenges. It gave me very intense pressure in my ears and head, along with severe dizziness. We need to feel safe in our homes.
Monning: Some in the community have been expressing their concerns about the potential adverse health effects of the radio frequencies utilized in the WiFi systems used by SmartMeters. While studies by the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health state that exposure to radio frequencies from wireless network devices do not constitute a health threat, all new technologies should be treated according to the precautionary principle.
Moreno/PG&E: Some of our customers have asked about any health effects related to the radio frequency (RF) that transmits usage information wirelessly to our data centers. Our SmartMeter devices are connected to low power radios, and their signals resemble those of other devices such as cell phones, microwaves and laptop computer, though their average RF levels are much lower than those devices. Specifically, the signal strength of a SmartMeter at a distance of 10 feet is only about one one-thousandth as much as a typical cell phone.
GT: How do we make THE technology safe?
Donnelly: We need an opt-out [option] for everyone with any of these concerns. [At] this time there is no opt-out for anyone.
Monning: At this time there is an inadequate amount of information available that would allow the CPUC to guarantee a definitive fix by PG&E in the overall SmartMeter system. PG&E should be encouraged by everyone to pursue a more defined public education program that includes independent scientific assessment information about Smart Meter technology, as well as a commitment to protecting consumer privacy and health.
Moreno/PG&E: We’ve created multiple resources to ensure that their concerns are addressed. Our current resources include a dedicated SmartMeter customer call center, the addition of 165 customer service representatives and more customer Answer Centers so customers understand how their new meter can empower them to control and reduce their energy usage.