SmartMeters coming to Monterey County, despite health and financial concerns.
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Monterey resident Nina Beety describes herself as a sort of prisoner to radiofrequency radiation – the kind emitted by cell phones, baby monitors and WiFi networks.
“I am electro-sensitive, and wireless has had a severe impact on my life in terms of mobility,” she says. (She later declines to enter the Weekly’s office because of “microwave RF radiation from the cell tower next door.”)
These days, Beety’s on red alert about potential health threats posed by SmartMeters: the wireless gas and electric meters that remotely transmit energy use data in regular intervals.
Pacific Gas & Electric has already installed some 6 million SmartMeters, and plans to upgrade all the meters within its service area, including the Central Coast, by 2012 – a $2.2 billion endeavor. Other investor-owned utilities are likewise rolling out the digital devices under a California Public Utilities Commission mandate.
PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno says the new technology will lead to better conservation. “We are able to provide customers with much more information,” he says. “Customers can go online and view [energy] usage in daily, weekly or even hourly increments.”
But SmartMeter implementation has been slower and more controversial than expected, as customers raise issues of billing accuracy, health impacts and privacy.
In June, the city of San Francisco petitioned the PUC to freeze SmartMeter installations until the state has more data on their performance. Santa Cruz County is drafting a SmartMeter ban, and on Aug. 24, the city of Watsonville approved a SmartMeter moratorium – though it’s unclear whether the ban will trump the PUC’s order.
For several days straight, protesters choked the driveway at PG&E contractor Wellington Energy’s offices in Capitola, blocking trucks from heading out to install SmartMeters.
Some opponents are focused on the radiofrequency radiation they view as toxic electro-smog, despite assurances from the World Health Organization and National Institutes of Health that they are safe. “It’s non-ionizing,” Moreno says of SmartMeter radiation, which is within Federal Communications Commission standards. “It’s not like x-rays and gamma rays, which can damage human tissue.”
Beety adamantly disagrees: “It poses such a serious threat that I felt it was important to let the community know. It’s pretty much emergency status.”
State Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez (D-Shafter), meanwhile, has been hearing complaints about jacked-up utility bills and device malfunctions in Kern County, where PG&E installed its first wave of Smart Meters.
“Bills were doubling and tripling in some cases,” Florez spokesman Bob Alvarez says. “We counted up to 60,000 problems.”
Florez hosted town hall meetings, convened the Senate Select Committee on the Smart Grid and sent the PUC a letter requesting closer study, and a temporary moratorium, on SmartMeters. The PUC agreed to a third-party audit, now underway.
Moreno says he doesn’t know the timeline for SmartMeter installations in Monterey County. But some Salinas residents have received notices that the meters will be rolled out in mid-September. Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue says the City Council will hear a presentation on SmartMeters this month.
Some opponents are attempting to refuse the meters, but Moreno says PG&E can’t promise to honor opt-out requests: “We were directed to deploy SmartMeters to all our customers.”