Smart Meter, Smarter Options


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In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funded $3.4 billion for the Smart Grid Investment Grant (SGIG) that “seeks to accelerate the transformation of the nation’s electric grid by deploying smart grid technologies and systems…and makes grid modernization a national policy.” The investment has since swelled to $4.5 billion.

Advanced Metering Initiatives (AMI) — or “smart meters" — wirelessly transmit the details of your energy consumption back to your local utility company at regular intervals. Unlike the conventional hard-wired or analog meters we’ve had on our houses for generations that only report the total amount of energy used, information transmitted by smart meters could potentially reveal our daily routines, changes in those routines, how many people live in a home, what types of electronic equipment are in the home and other personal details of our lives. Could electrical use records possibly be subpoenaed as court evidence in future trials?

Proponents of the grid allege that this energy consumption data can be used to promote and create energy efficiency. For instance, utility companies using smart grid technologies currently send out notices to customers showing them how their energy usage compares with their neighbors’, and report that this information educates and motivates change in customer usage. Other programs alert customers by text or email when their energy usage crosses into a new pricing tier or peak time usage.

While approximately 40 million smart meters have already been deployed in the United States (California and Maine have the highest penetration rate in the country), serious health, safety, privacy, homeland security, and financial concerns exist over this technology. Specifically, the continuous pulsed radio frequencies (RF) emitted from meters attached to homes, as well as skepticism about spending billions of dollars for a new meter system that effectively prevents the US from moving towards more sustainable energy, have created enough grassroots stir to prompt serious community debate, bans in some towns on meter installation, and promote legislation allowing citizens to opt out of smart meter installation on their homes.

Dr. Tim Schoechle, an engineering and policy consultant with expertise in smart grid technologies who serves on several international smart grid standard setting committees, is the author of a new report entitled “Getting Smarter About the Smart Grid.” This report reveals that billions of dollars in federal subsidies will be misspent on installing new meters on an old grid instead of upgrading the grid infrastructure to one that would integrate renewable energy resources and decentralized (local, community) power generation. The big victory with smart meter installation is for the meter networking manufacturers and investor-owned utilities (IOUs) — which, incidentally, have no financial incentive to promote energy conservation, renewable or affordable energy sources.

Aside from the national risks incurred by neglecting to install a supergrid that can launch Americans into an energy-sustainable future, the added electromagnetic radiation pulsing 24/7 from smart meters comes with a host of potential health hazards for homeowners and their neighbors. Electromagnetic radiation pollution has been called the health crisis of our time. Many individuals, including those with neurological disorders, MS, medical devices implanted in their bodies and EMF sensitivity report devastating effects from wireless meters attached to their homes, sending out bursts of radiation several times a minute all day, everyday. Marguerite LaChance of Springvale, ME, writes:

“In May of 2011 a so-called smart meter was placed on my house without my authorization and with no notice or warning of all the health hazards. Around that same time, I started feeling tired all the time, getting very dizzy, passing out and having chest pains. I needed a cane to walk around so I would not fall, but I fell many times. I had test after test and endless blood work. I felt like I was dying, but no one had any idea why.

“At this point my son, Robert, started doing research on the Internet and discovered that other people were having the same health problems from smart meters. My son called CMP [Central Maine Power Company] and asked them to remove the meter and they did so within two hours after he told them I had a pacemaker.

“CMP told us it would cost us $40 to put back the old meter (even though they took it for free in the first place.) They also said we would have to pay an extra twelve dollars a month for that. I understand approximately half the state is not on smart meters and they are not paying an extra twelve dollars a month for the old fashioned, safe meters.

“I am very happy to say after that meter was gone I stopped having chest pains. My energy started coming back to me and I was walking without the cane, sleeping nights, no more headaches, no more chest pains. My life is pleasurable again.”

The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) is the agency responsible for determining safe levels of RF exposure. Dr. Amy Dean, board certified internist and president of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, cites peer-reviewed scientific studies concluding that “significant harmful biological effects occur from non-thermal RF exposure,” such as that emitted from smart meters. While Sweden and other European countries have already labeled continuous low level RF exposure a health hazard, the FCC is adamant that this radiation is only dangerous in amounts that actually heat the human body (thermal effects) with high level RF, such as the principle by which microwave ovens cook food.

According to the FCC, “At relatively low levels of exposure to RF radiation, i.e., levels lower than those that would produce significant heating, the evidence for production of harmful biological effects is ambiguous and unproven. Such effects, if they exist, have been referred to as ‘non-thermal’ effects…[however] It is generally agreed that further research is needed to determine the generality of such effects and their possible relevance, if any, to human health.”

So the FCC policy is to regulate the obvious — don’t microwave yourself — but for smart meter RF, we’re not sure, so let’s experiment with the public and see what happens.

FCC guidelines for smart meter installation, however, do mandate “…a separation distance of at least 20cm [approximately 8 inches] from the end user is required and must not be co-located or operating in conjunction with any other antenna or transmitter.” Yet meters are routinely mounted side by side and less than 8 inches apart in huge banks, meaning sleeping infants, people with pacemakers, MS, and other neurological disorders are well within 20 centimeters of this pulsed radiation, possibly even sleeping with their beds on the other side of that wall bank; they just don’t know it.

Many states include opt-out smart meter options for consumers who request them, either with or without additional fees to retain your old meter. However, even if you opt-out for your home, you could still be subjected to RF pollution from neighbors or other more powerful smart grid utility-installed repeater transmitters in your neighborhood.

To learn more about smart meters and opting out, visit haltMAsmartmeters.org. For information on RF health dangers visit emfsafetynetwork.org. In Massachusetts, a hearing will be held for smart meter opt out bill H 2926 on June 18. Please contact your state and local legislators prior to that day. Watch this 5-minute video about smart meters that is suitable for presentation at all public meetings where utility company officials are taking comment from the public: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPLSwAm9DkQ

— Carol Bedrosian with additional reporting from Patricia Burke and Clare Donegan.

Carol Bedrosian is the publisher of Spirit of Change holistic magazine. Visit www.spiritofchange.org.

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