All hail the smart meter! It can wirelessly transmit data from a customer’s home to the utility, allowing the utility to monitor usage in real time and better manage power allocations. The Department of Energy sees the smart meter as an essential component of the smart grid, and initial concerns among utility customers that the meters were inaccurately measuring usage have largely dissipated.
So the smart meter, it seems, has earned a permanent place in the energy efficiency firmament.
Except in some homes, as a recent a New York Times story points out.
Resistance to the devices, the article explains, is rooted in the concerns expressed by two normally disparate groups in Northern California. One fears that the wireless transmissions smart meters make to the utility – Pacific Gas & Electric, in this case – are potentially unhealthy, particularly for people said to suffer from a condition called electromagnetic hypersensitivity, in which even low-level electromagnetic radiation from cellphones, Wi-Fi base stations, and the like are blamed for a range of ailments, from dizziness and headaches to fatigue and sleeplessness.
An invasive technology?
The other anti-smart-meter group, which includes the North Bay Patriots, a Tea Party affiliate based in the northern counties of the Bay Area, complains that smart meters, and their real-time monitoring capabilities, pose unnecessary intrusions on privacy and open the door to misuse of information about homeowners’ electricity consumption.
Members of both groups told the Times they felt that PG&E’s smart-meter deployment, which so far has included about 7 million homes, has been foisted on them rather than presented as an option. “It’s not all about saving money — it’s about control,” Deborah Tavares, a Republican who recently was arrested for blocking utility installation trucks at a dispatch center in Rohnert Park, told the paper. Customers who worry that the meters might cause health problems say that conclusive studies should have been conducted before the meters were rolled out on a large scale.
A number of double-blind studies have focused on electromagnetic hypersensitivity – the Times mentions two government reviews of work conducted by public health experts (click here for a review of dozens of such studies) – but none have found a link between the low-level electromagnetic radiation, of the type transmitted by smart meters, and health problems.
PG&E claims it is considering accommodating customers with concerns about electromagnetic radiation by offering to hardwire smart meters to, perhaps, a cable or phone line. As for privacy concerns, a PG&E executive noted that the utility had been able to track customers’ usage long before smart meters came along “and always kept it confidential. We’re going to honor their privacy.”