A home owner in Texas pulls out a handgun and tells a smart meter installer to back away from her house. He does.
couple in British Columbia covers their already-installed smart meter
with a metal hood to block its radio transmissions. The company that
makes the hoods is doing a brisk business.
In Maine, a smart
meter opponent brings a lawsuit against the utility company that wants
to install the new technology on his house. He wins his case.
are just a few of the hundreds of incidents I’ve seen in the media
lately about the digital devices utility companies are installing on
customers’ homes all over North America (and other continents).
companies say smart meters will reduce stress on an overworked
electrical grid and help limit power outages. They point out that more
efficient use of power reduces the need for more power plants and helps
keep rates low.
Smart meters take the place of your meter
reader, digitally sending info about your electricity consumption back
to the utility. The info gathered by the meters also lets consumers
monitor their own power use, adjusting consumption so they can run
power-hungry appliances when rates are low. For example, by turning on
the clothes dryer late at night instead of the middle of the day.
But many consumers aren’t convinced their best interests are being served.
utility companies are using smart meters as a way to intrude into our
homes,” says Kristine Tanzillo of Myrtle Springs, Texas. “There is no
proof that energy costs will be reduced by these meters.”
So Why the Outrage?
Basically, the hubbub swirls around three issues:
1. Smart meters aren’t safe. They emit radio frequency energy that some say is a health risk, especially those with electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS).
2. They’re an invasion of privacy.
Because the meters record and broadcast the slightest changes in
household energy consumption, they can pinpoint when houses are empty,
even when occupants go to bed.
3. Smart meters save consumers money.
That doesn’t wash with some home owners who claim their utility bills
have tripled since the installation of the wireless meters.
All that’s just skimming the surface. A smart meter argument can get as twisty as an old garden hose.
hard to understand the health issue, for example, without some
knowledge of radio frequency energy, smart meter pulse rates, and causal
effects of EHS. And even if you do, somebody in the smart meter debate
is bound to say you’ve got it all wrong.
“We have put a sign and a
lock on our meter box to prevent the installation of a smart meter,”
says Ingrid Perri, a naturopath in Australia. “I believe they are
detrimental to health. A smart meter at my house would be right behind
our heads as we sleep, radiating into our brains.”
That’s a non-issue, insists the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative, a
non-profit group that supports smart grid technology. In their
publication, “Radio Frequency and Smart Meters,” the SGCC says, “Smart
meters don’t produce any negative health impacts. They emit a low level
of radio frequency energy that’s both FCC-approved and lower than the
level of RF energy emitted by many other devices that are used daily by
millions of people.”
Even if you’re inclined to wear a lead loin
cloth and tin foil hat, the reality is that smart meters are already
everywhere. To date, about 27 million of the technologically advanced
metering systems are installed on homes and apartment buildings, and
millions more are scheduled.
Home Owners: Don’t Tread on Us!
And now we’re at the heart of the issue.
fact is that utility companies misjudged consumer backlash. They failed
to understand the passion that home owners have for their personal
property, and they didn’t account for the sense of violation that home
owners might feel when a power company employee comes strolling into
their yards, unbidden, and proceeds to install a device they didn’t
“It’s a search without a warrant,” insists consumer advocate Jerry Day.
In certain parts of the country, apparently, the law agrees.
Maine, home owner Ed Friedman of Bowdoinham brought a lawsuit against
Maine’s Public Utility Commission and his local utility, Central Maine
Power, charging that smart meters are an invasion of privacy and may
cause health problems.
Speaking to the MIT Technology Review, Freidman summed up his sentiments with simple eloquence: “My home is my castle.”
the Maine Supreme Court didn’t draw conclusions about smart meter
technology, it did say that Maine’s Public Utility Commission had failed
to adequately address health and safety issues before authorizing
installation of smart meters.
The decision is somewhat moot, given the fact that more than 600,000 smart meters were already installed in the state. Oops!
Utility Mea Culpa — for a Fee
deal with the cat-out-of-the-bag issue, many utility companies in
several states are offering customers an opt-out on smart meter
installation. For a fee, utilities will allow you to keep your old
meter. The fee covers the cost of having a meter read manually, and
defrays the cost of reinstalling traditional meters for customers who
want their old metering ways back.
In California, for example,
customers of Pacific Gas & Electric will have to fork over a $75
initial fee and a $10 monthly fee. Of PG&E’s 5.4 million customers,
about 27,000 have taken the opt-out option.
To some, that’s
unfair. “Customers shouldn’t have to pay more if they don't want a smart
meter in their home,” says David Bakke, editor at Money Crashers
Meanwhile, Maine’s Supreme Court decision has sobered several utility companies.
the Midwest, MidAmerican Energy Company and Alliant Energy have delayed
deployment of smart meters until concerns about excessive billings are
resolved. Connecticut regulators have put off installation of 1.2
million smart meters while the state develops an acceptable smart meter
policy that addresses the issues.
Maybe the whole controversy is a
good thing. You’ve got to admire an issue that transcends political
boundaries to unite groups as disparate as the Tea Party faithful and
Me? I’m all for more studies to
determine the health effects of radio frequency emissions from smart
meters. At the same time, I like the idea that a meter reader will no
longer be tromping through my rhododendrons to record my monthly energy
usage while maybe sneaking a quick peek through my office window.
I wonder what they’d think if they could see me in my tin foil hat?
Would you allow a smart meter on your house? Are the concerns myth or reality — or does it even matter?