Wireless Smart Meters Face More Hurdles in California

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Many of us are generally quite gung-ho on the amazing power of wireless technology. From convenience to efficiency and cost savings, there’s plenty to rave about.

Yet in the San Francisco Bay Area — and in particular in my Marin County home — citizens are up in arms, blockading trucks and opposing mandatory installation of smart meters. These opponents have been bolstered by three major developments all occurring within the last week or so, so it is safe to say they are not going to go away quietly:

– On January 4, the Marin Board of Supervisors passed an emergency ordinance that effectively creates a one-year moratorium on smart meter installations by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) in unincorporated Marin (which includes my West Marin in Stinson Beach).

– On January 7, smart meter opponents from Marin County touted a new study carried out by consulting firm Sage and Associates that finds that associated health impacts with wireless smart meters may include neurological symptoms such as headache, sleep disruption, restlessness, tremors, cognitive impairment, and tinnitus, as well as increased cancer risk and heart problems.

– On January 10, a hearing hosted by the federal Department of Justice in San Francisco was held to gather comments on whether the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) should be revised to add issues surrounding alleged functional impairment generated by wireless devices to the existing hearing, speech and vision disability considerations governed by this law.

Has California gone nuts? That’s a topic always open to debate. But before advocates of the smart grid dismiss such developments as utter nonsense and just the latest Luddite craze, there really is a more intelligent response. As business guru and “systems theory” MIT professor Peter Senge might say, crisis breeds opportunity, and the sooner industry starts addressing these consumer concerns, the better for all involved. If Europe can shift to a smarter grid without complete reliance on wireless technology, why can’t we?

Let’s just say 1 percent of the total population can link maladies to wireless smart meters. Is it really fair to subject these poor individuals to ubiquitous wireless radiation in all of our cafes, hotels and even their homes – without any choice? If there wasn’t so much money on the table, the rational answer would be no.

But there are other alternatives. Just ask Echelon, which is deploying its smart grid technology over wires with Duke Power, and is looking for its own little pot of gold at the end of the smart grid rainbow. The uproar over wireless smart meters could provide an opening for it and other like-minded businesses offering smart grid alternatives.

The fact is the science is still incomplete. Cell phones are increasingly being linked to brain tumors and other health problems. According to critics, wireless pulses from smart meters radiate 2-15 times per minute, 24 hours a day and are approximately 2-3 times the intensity of a cell phone. I am not a scientist, so cannot substantiate or refute these claims. There is a major drop-off in radiation with increased distance, so even if true, most residents may still be quite safe with wireless smart meters, depending upon the exact location of these devices near homes.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has a schizophrenic response to this dilemma. On one hand, it has refused to stop smart meter installations; on the other, it has ordered an investigation into the health impacts of these same smart meters. Interestingly enough, 2000 state ratepayers have filed health complaints regarding smart meters to the CPUC to date, and that number is likely to grow over time.

“The CPUC could easily resolve this contentious situation by offering a broad wired opt-out alternative,” said Barry Smith, Co-Director of the Point Reyes based West Marin Community Coalition for Environmental Health. “Why are they in such a hurry? If this technology is safe and their goal is to reach out to the customer and listen to their concerns, then why are they trying to install smart meters as fast as possible in Central and West Marin County?”

Smith’s comments actually sound logical. That’s bad news for unabashed fans of wireless technology. There is no easy answer. But sticking our heads in the sand has never been good for business in the long run. It is time for some genuine scientists – not linked to either the “pro” or the “con” camp — to weigh in. Diversity is always a good hedge, and no business model – including the smart grid – is immune from that basic risk mitigation strategy.

Article by Peter Asmus, appearing courtesy the Matter Network.

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1 Comment

  1. I can’t understand yet this discussion about the impact of wireless technology. There are the same number of studies that say that nothing happens, that say that is bad for health. The thing is that we should be all dead considering our daily exposition to wireless (i.ex. TV – Analog, Digital, Satellite, Cell Phones, Internet everywhere, etc.).

    I guess that all of those citizens that are up in arms also are against cigarrettes, the use of cars, or the thing that is so easy to buy a gun.

    And the alternative technology commented is PLC (Power Line Communications)… let me say that also uses wireless to send data remotely.

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