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Green Building News

Couple Sacrifices Electricity in Smart Meter Dispute

The Maryland pair would rather sit through a sweltering summer without air conditioning than pay a smart meter opt-out fee

Turning down a smart meter was going to cost a Maryland couple $14 a month, but they refused to pay as a matter of principle. The power company shut them off.
Image Credit: Portland General Electric / CC BY-ND 2.0 / Flickr

Assya and Mario Pascalev could easily have afforded the $14 month fee their local electric utility wanted in return for opting out of a smart meter installation at their Bethesda, Maryland, home. But the couple, both philosophy PhDs, have gone on a temporary protest and are sweating their way through the hottest time of the year without air conditioning or lights.

Two years into the dispute, their unpaid power bill stands at $635 and the Pascalevs are using an LED lantern to make their way around their steamy home at night, at least when they’re not holed up at a local hotel to escape the heat, according to a story in The Washington Post.

Like a number of other consumers around the country, the Pascalevs have resisted the switch to a wireless meter that regularly sends data on electricity consumption to the utility. Power companies say smart meters help manage the grid more effectively, but the Pascalevs say the meters are a violation of their privacy, and could pose health and safety concerns.

The Maryland Public Service Commission says health worries are unfounded, and even the Pascalevs say the evidence is inconclusive. But the couple, who met as university students in Bulgaria in the 1980s, are sensitive to compromises in personal choice, The Post said.

“We’re probably more sensitive to limitations on individual liberties,” said Assya Pascalev, a university professor in biomedical ethics.

Only 2% of Pepco’s customers don’t have smart meters. Customers can opt out, but not for free. The original $75 opt-out clause got the Pascalev’s attention, and the $14 monthly fee Pepco uses to pay for maintenance of the old analog meters pushed them over the edge.

The couple is apparently nearing the end of their protest, in part because their dog is suffering in the heat and they want the AC turned back on. Still, the experience has been useful.

“You know the thing they said about the unexamined life?” Mario Pascalev asked. “We’re thinking about stuff.”

10 Comments

  1. Steve Knapp CZ 3A Georgia | | #1

    Not just a philosophical question
    Many people will read this article and laugh, but connected devices such as smart meters pose some real security and privacy concerns. For example, a few years ago researchers at the University of Washington demonstrated that they could identify which movie a building occupant was watching by monitoring fluctuations in a tv's SMPS power supply. While smart meter data is supposed to be anonymized and encrypted, these safeguards are often improperly implemented or easily circumvented. On the plus side, perhaps, it is sometimes possible to hack smart meters and manipulate the data stream to report false information, such as a much lower level of energy consumption.

  2. Nathan Spriegel | | #2

    I do not agree with the "opt
    I do not agree with the "opt out" fee (after all the power company WILL NOT be removing a meter in that case). However the monthly fee, while apparently a little high, is understandable. After all the power co must continue to send someone out to read the meter and meter readers do not work for free!

    As to the health aspects the only question I will ask of such people is this: Do you own a cell phone or wifi router? If so why are you not concerned about those much more powerful devices?

    Now as to the privacy aspect I do consider that a huge concern. At the moment there is NO protection from "warrantless" data requests from law enforcement. Here is the scenario I envision, police request data on anyone who has regular and consistent increases in power usage possibly indicative of hydroponic lights being used. They raid the house under a "no knock" search warrant, shoot the dog and possibly the homeowner who does not realize that they are police officers and not criminals, just for them to discover the power load was something else entirely. Implausible? Similar things have happened before.

  3. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #3

    Response to Steve and Nathan
    Steve and Nathan,
    For more information on the privacy implications of the "smart grid," see this article: Get Ready for Smart Appliances.

  4. User avater
    Dana Dorsett | | #4

    Some people opt out of the grid permanently over other issues.
    Keya Chatterjee has a better approach than most, prompted to opt out of the utility altogether by ridiculously large power bills for family as energy-parsimonius as hers. This was about grossly inaccurate metering or billing issues that the unresponsive monopoly utility (also PEPCO) proved incapable of resolving over even after years of regular calling. It had nothing to do with smart metering or security issues.

    That was seven years ago, but the family has made the necessary adjustments:

    https://youtu.be/J9XJcF6hIbU

    http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/08/going-off-the-grid-in-the-middle-of-a-city/495518/

    Intentionally pulling the plug and going urban-off-grid year round takes some resolve, but it's often do-able if you're dedicated.

    I like their toilet with the hand-washing basin top, utilizing the tank-fill water for hand washing. Anybody know who makes it?

  5. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #5

    Response to Dana Dorsett
    Dana,
    The tank-top sink is made by a company called SinkPositive.

  6. Paul W | | #6

    Unintended consequences
    I question the potential health risks and damage to the home caused by going off grid in this manner. I've seen new wood floors buckle and be ruined by uncontrolled humidity fluctuations. If it's a home with no window in the bathroom, how are they adequately ventilating the bathroom to prevent potential health and home damaging mold? How are they exhausting steam and gas combustion by-products in the kitchen from cooking on the gas stove (no electricity means no microwave, and no electric range most likely). I'm sure others can come up with even more issues or concerns.

  7. Kye Ford | | #7

    Long Term Exposure
    The question is wether long term exposure to small amounts of microwave frequencies pose a problem for your health.

    Nathan S. unfortunately evidence is beginning to be solidified that wifi and cell phone frequencies are increasing cancer rates.

    Unplug your wifi, go back to hardwire, keep your cellphone atleast 10 feet away, and get rid of your smart meter, and hey you just might add 10 years back onto your life.

    http://www.infowars.com/game-changing-study-links-cellphone-radiation-to-cancer/

  8. Malcolm Taylor | | #8

    Kye
    Any evidence is at best equivocal - as the article in Mother Jones you linked to suggests.
    Here is a reasonable take on the current science:
    https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2016/feb/17/electromagnetic-radiation-doesnt-make-you-ill-or-give-you-cancer-heres-why

  9. Rich M | | #9

    microwaves, radio waves?
    Not all smart meters send signals by microwave or radio. Some inject the signal over the wire back to the substation where it is then sent by radio to the utility. The data is not sent continuously, its sent in batches a few times each day. Access to this data from the meter can be very beneficial to the customer.

  10. Jay S | | #10

    The sun is a broad-band
    The sun is a broad-band electromagnetic energy source that radiates about 1kw per sq meter on Earth. And some folks think that wi-fi, smart meters, and other narrow-band EM sources that radiate milliwatts or microwatts are a problem?

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