Public Policy Paper on Smart Meters

Smart meters are part of a smart grid system linking electricity from homes to utilities via a distributed antenna system, or mesh grid; a conversion from analog to digital. Power consumers have the option to purchase power transmitters for appliances which can monitor usage. New appliances are being produced with the power transmitter built-in. The purpose of this is two-fold. Power companies are faced with exceeding the capacity of the current facilities and the hope is that the smart grid system will eliminate the need to build more power plants. Also, the smart grid system is thought to be a greener or sustainable solution. Information given about power usage from the transmitters will hopefully encourage the population to consume less energy. In most of the United States, the choice of whether or not to have a smart meter installed on one’s property is nonexistent. Currently, only California and Maine have placed moratoriums on smart meters with an opt-out penalty and monthly fee for those who do not participate.[1] Should the federal government enact a bill to make smart meters optional for the general public? Health and privacy headline the debate on this controversial issue.

There is a more important question to consider first… Are you affected by smart meters? The question has many variables to consider when determining an answer. Maybe a smart meter has not been installed on your house yet, but your neighbors may already have one installed. If you live in an apartment complex, there could be a grouping of up to 20 meters installed together. This lets off a lot more radio frequency, or RF, which children are thought to be more susceptible to. Also being placed on homes alongside other smart meters are collection meters with three antennas (instead of the two on standard smart meters) that relay RF signals to the power company.  While only two of the three antennas operate at the same time, these collection meters also increase the RF exposure to levels which exceed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) safety standards. “The FCC’s standards have not been updated since 1992.” [2] Also noteworthy is that the power transmitters that work in conjunction with smart meters also emit radio frequency constantly and increase overall RF levels.

The issue of health is vital in assessing the smart meter debate. People may suffer from electromagnetic hypersensitivity, which is a condition attributed to radio frequency exposure. Also affected are people with metal implants, as well as Parkinson’s disease patients with deep-brain stimulators. The utilities companies claim that those affected should take precautions with the devices. This should mean that they be exempt from mandatory installation and opt-out fees. “The FCC’s Grants of Authorization and other certification procedures do not ensure adequate safety to safeguard people under Department of Justice protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act.” [3] A case in Marin County shows Dave DeSante attempted contacting PG&E about a smart meter causing headaches in his son who has titanium filigree in his forehead. “Dave DeSante said PG&E had promised to look into the problem but had not yet done so.” [4] Smart meters should not be installed on homes where people risk being affected. Is that risk much greater for the general public than it is for those with pre-existing health conditions?

The argument in defense of smart meters is that it is unknown how much RF the population is already exposed to and mainly, what a safe level is. With the advent of iPhones and Blackberry devices, most of the population currently has a high exposure rate. Wireless routers, baby monitors, security systems, wireless intercoms, cordless phones and surveillance monitors also emit this type of frequency and may be affected by electromagnetic interference (EMI) from smart meters. [5] Other EMI producing devices include security gates, cell phone towers, and RFID scanners. There has been a study released linking RF from cell phones to cancer and it has influenced the anti-smart meter movement in the United States.

Smart meters are not just a problem for those in the United States. This is a global phenomenon. In Canada, the electricity supplier BC Hydro is currently installing smart meters.

“The provincial utility says the ability to track consumption more precisely will make the energy grid more efficient, reduce labor costs, build sustainability and make it easier to locate and respond to power outages… Critics say smart meters are just a sugar-coated scheme for a cash grab, enabling BC Hydro to raise rates for customers who use electricity during peak load periods.”[6]

This certainly is a topic in which people should form their own opinions based on research, or lack thereof. What unnerves most about the implementation of smart meters is that little is known in regards to the effects of prolonged exposure over time.

The Sage Associates report illustrates the grey area and exhibits multiple probabilities of FCC safety violations. The violations stem from reflectivity of metal surfaces within the kitchens of homes as well as the exceeded RF levels from groups of smart meters. Kitchen surfaces are an unknown factor to the electric company and those who install the smart meters. The report appears to show evidence against the safety of the meters.

“FCC compliance violations are likely to occur under widespread conditions of installation and operation of smart meters and collection meters in California. Violations of FCC safety limits for uncontrolled public access are identified at distances within 6’’ of the meter… Peak power limits are not violated at the 6’’ distance (looking at the meter) but can be at 3’’ from the meter, if it is touched.” [7]

Also it is advised that the area(s) around the meter, whether inside or outside, have ‘substantially elevated RF levels from within a few feet to tens of feet around the meter.’ [8]

            The other chief concern is that of privacy. The smart meter device sends real time information about electricity usage. This data is of course being handled by a computer system, and any computer system has the potential to be hacked. People’s worries range from their information being stored in a database and possibly sold to other companies for research, to the potential of a burglar knowing when the best time to strike may be. The unknown issues that may arise from a breech in privacy are still to come, based on individual companies’ ability to uphold privacy policies.

            Section 8 of Article I of the United States Constitution determines the responsibility of regulating commerce to lie in the hands of Congress. Right now, this power is being managed by the Public Utility Commission (PUC) that is in charge of each state’s power companies. The people of the United States do not have many alternative choices when it comes to energy, and even those they do have may only be taken advantage of through the one provider in their area. Ultimately, we the people do not have a choice about what is being provided to us. Whether or not the federal government should step in on the smart meter situation depends on which way you look at it. Smart meters only violate our constitutional rights if the power companies abuse our information and smart meters are in fact hazardous to our health. While the Sage Associates report claims violation of the FCC safety standards, the scenarios are considered hypothetical by some. Another thing to consider is that smart meters are already being implemented for other utilities such as gas and water. Once those companies begin rolling out the devices into residential areas everywhere, people should expect an exponential increase of RF exposure.

            There is an expression called ‘Moore’s Law’ which applies here. Moore’s Law states that technology is advancing at a rate that humans cannot keep up with. We are the ones advancing technology, yes, but not all of society is ready to embrace this change. Even more so, the potential hazards of change are enough to scare extremists into changing the minds of the confused or otherwise apathetic citizens. Do the benefits outweigh the disadvantages? Only time will tell as reports will inevitably increase with the PUC’s forced installation of smart meters throughout the country. Without the data obtained from the use of these new technologies by both medical professionals as well as utility providers, it is impossible to predict the outcome. Many Americans are quick to pick a side on the issue but the standards for protecting us as a whole are outdated, as is the power system which is being replaced.

            It is not yet clear whether the reports linking illness to EMI are accurate or simply the cause of something else altogether. These claims fuel the fight against smart meters and some doctors are quick to suggest RF exposure as a toxic when illness is un-diagnosable. The main thing to remember is that there is not enough data to confirm this. The people of the United States can hope that California and Maine will set examples for the rest of the country and begin a series of choices to be brought available to electricity consumers.

 

Bibliography

 

  1. Sage Associates Environmental Consultants Assessment of Radiofrequency Microwave Radiation Emissions from Smart Meters. Rep. Santa Barbara, 2011. Print.

 

  1. Barringer, Felicity. “New Electricity Meters Stir Fears.” Editorial. The New York Times 30 Jan. 2011: A12. Web. 7 Nov. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/31/science/earth/31meters.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all&gt;.

 

  1. Hume, Stephen. “Liberals’ Dumb Response to Smart-meter Opposition Could Prove Their Waterloo.” Editorial. 24 Oct. 2011. Vancouver Sun Web. 7 Nov. 2011. <http://www.vancouversun.com/business/Liberals+dumb+response+smart+meter+opposition+could+prove+their+Waterloo/5541450/story.html&gt;.

 

  1. Jang, Marina. “Prince George Free Press – Getting the Smart Meter Facts.” Editorial. 6 Sept. 2011. Prince George Free Press – Prince George Free Press. Web. 07 Nov. 2011. <http://www.pgfreepress.com/opinion/letters/129338033.html&gt;.

 

  1. O’Leary, Mary E. “AG Upholds Decision on Smart Meters.” Editorial. New Haven Register 4 Oct. 2011. The Middletown Press: Serving Middletown CT and Surrounding Areas. Web. 07 Nov. 2011. <http://www.middletownpress.com/articles/2011/10/04/news/doc4e8ac113d6917980087893.txt&gt;.

 

  1. Turkel, Tux. “PUC Approves ‘smart’ Meter Opt-out Options.” Editorial. Portland Press Herald. 17 May 2011. Web. 07 Nov. 2011. <http://www.pressherald.com/news/PUC-approves-smart-meter-opt-out-options.html&gt;.

 

 


[1] Turkel, Tux, “PUC Approves ‘smart’ Meter Opt-out Options,” Portland Press Herald 17 May 2011.

[2] Sage Associates Environmental Consultants, Assessment of Radiofrequency Microwave Radiation Emissions from Smart Meters. Rep. Santa Barbara, 2011, 17.

 

[3] Sage Associates Environmental Consultants, 57.

 

[4] Barringer, Felicity, “New Electricity Meters Stir Fears,” The New York Times 30 Jan. 2011: A12.

[5] Sage Associates Environmental Consultants, 56.

 

[6] Hume, Stephen, “Liberals’ Dumb Response to Smart-meter Opposition Could Prove Their Waterloo,” Vancouver Sun 24 Oct. 2011.

 

[7] Sage Associates Environmental Consultants, 50.

 

[8] Sage Associates Environmental Consultants, 51.

 

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Sacred Spaces

This image comes from De LaVeaga park in Santa Cruz, CA. I used to live right by this park; across the street from it, actually. I like to call this the “Gnome Hole” and it reminds me a bit of Alice in Wonderland. It seems as if you could fall in and find another world inside. Every time I would pass by it, I would have to stop and ponder the possibilities, at least for a moment. Banana slugs can often be found nearby. I enjoyed this spot so much, I had to go back without my dog Charlie to re-photograph the mini-delight. I took these images for a digital photography class I was taking this past Fall, but I didn’t end up using any of the gnome hole shots. I wanted to, but they just weren’t working right in my composites. I wanted to take a moment to revisit the idea of spaces we hold sacred, and for what reasons. This park will always have a special place in my heart. The redwood forest has symbolized many things to me. I’m sure that you have special places you hold dear to you as well. Where, and why? I’m hoping to be able to seek out some magic in good old California in 2012. There are so many amazing places I have yet to see, in my own backyard. Suggestions welcome, of course! I already have a list of places to visit in nearby Big Sur. I can’t believe I haven’t been there in 15 years, and I live less than two hours away!

Gnome Hole

Can be found in De LaVeaga Park, Santa Cruz, CA.