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Public policy and those pesky smart meters

Steven Weissman, associate director, Center for Law, Energy and the Environment | March 14, 2011

The controversy over “smart” electric meters doesn’t want to go away.  The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the President of the California Public Utilities Commission has directed the Pacific Gas & Electric Company to come back within two weeks with a plan for allowing customers to pay some additional “reasonable” amount for the privilege of not using a meter that communicates with the utility wirelessly.  Smart meters, wireless or otherwise, allow the utility to track electric usage from moment to moment, and charge different rates at different times.

radio tower signalThe fears about smart meters include a loss of privacy, threats to personal security, inaccurate billing, and potential health impacts from persistent exposure to the radio waves transmitting the usage information.  There is an issue as to which of these fears are well-founded, but there also is an issue about what regulators and the utilities are willing to do to address public concerns.

With the Commission’s blessing, PG&E plowed ahead with its meter deployment effort despite growing questions and concerns.  According to the Chronicle, the utility has already changed 73% of its meters from the traditional mechanical system to a digital wireless transmitter/receiver.  Introducing an option to reject the standard-issue digital meter at this point in the rollout has got to add cost and introduce new equity issues – such as why anyone who never asked for the change in the first place should have to pay more to avoid it.  While it is likely to cost more to maintain dual metering systems, the Commission starts out down that road when it makes the wireless meters optional.  To some, it might make more sense to lump all of the meter-related costs together, and spread them evenly across all customers.

What is regrettable is that most of the controversy could have been addressed so much more effectively before the program was launched.  Other utilities are focusing more on public education prior to deployment.  But more significantly, regulators had the tools – and most likely the legal responsibility — to have tackled the health and safety issues before letting the utilities change a single meter.

The Commission has permitted the regulated utilities to send crews out to the site of each of their millions of residential and commercial customer sites to change the meters and install a wireless communication web linking them together.  This decision is discretionary.  Pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act, the Commission needed to ask itself whether there was a potential that the program could lead to significant environmental impacts.  It never asked. Instead, it simply declared that it was under no legal obligation to look.

Perhaps the answer would have been “no”, but the Commission needed to address the question. By failing to do so, the Commission and the utilities remain vulnerable.  If a preliminary environmental study pointed to no potential health and safety impacts, the Commission could have backed up its assumption that such is the case. In addition, those who disagree would have had an opportunity to consider the Commission’s reasoning and, perhaps, point out the error of its ways. On the other hand, if the study suggested that there were potential problems, the Commission could have investigated them further and, potentially, discovered constructive ways to mitigate the impacts.

Instead, the Commission went with its gut, and decided that there probably was nothing to worry about. By waiting to address the concerns this late in the game, the Commission fanned the flames, created a greater opportunity for public distrust, and likely made the change-out more expensive.

Cross-posted from the environmental law and policy blog Legal Planet.

Comments to “Public policy and those pesky smart meters

  1. We have two on our house, starting two weeks ago (one for the gas, one for the electric). They sent me to the hospital twice already. It is ruining my already fragile health. I live in our back yard now. Can’t wait for the coming lawsuits (I am the first one on that list).
    eileen l
    santa cruz, ca

    ps: just for good measure I will handle PG&E like I deal with all evil creations…..looking for a way to make sure they never ever do this again….don’t ask me how…..

  2. I need to make several points:

    1. Why are we trying to save power? Remember the “energy crsis? They had 25 power plants shut down for maintance at one time on the western grid. The western grid is from Canada to Mexico, from the Pacific ocean to the Rocky mountains. Every power plant it that area are all interconnected. By law they could only have 5 plants down for maintance at one time. With 25 down at one time do you think we’d have a shortage? Gov. Gray Davis then pushed through 13 new power plants. So when the 25 power plants were backup and running we had all of the power we needed, plus the 13 new ones. At the same time Gray Davis signed a contract with power plants in Colorado that force California to buy an X amount of power every month at he highest and most expensive in the country from Colorado, whether we needed and used it or not. And all of the power we didn’t use we had to sell back to them at a tenth of the cost. So we’re paying for power that we’re not using, they are sending, andnot even generating. (My numbers maybe a little off.) Remember Clinton’s Sec. of the Interior Bruce Babbitt? He went around in the western grid and picked out all of the hydro-electric generating power plant dams to be torn down. The cleanest, greenest, most effectant and cost effective in the world.

    2. If the RF signals from the smart meters goes through the walls and everythng else, what kind of RF signals are they emiting? Microwave is one that I’ve heard. Those frequencies goes through anything except metal.

    Which brings me to the third point. If you have been fored to already have a smart meter on your house and didn’t want it. Simply go down to a roofing supply company and buy a roll of lead, used for flashing on tile roofs. And wrap you smart meter with it. It won’t stop the signal from entering your house. but the lead will stop the signals from leaving the meter. They can’t stop you from dong this. It’s on your property and was put on without your permission. And if enough people do this, if every body does this it will make the smart meters worthless and make them go back to the old meters.

  3. Well written summary of a botched cowboy technology reckless rollout. Unfortunately, it points out that the CPUC is basically a utility industry group which chose to ignore the required steps and procedures for whatever the reason. Its own internal research arm the “Division of Ratepayer Advocates” warned the 5 member commission of the error of its ways every step along the way. They were ignored.

    It is time to “fire the coach”, Chairman Peevey who seemed to monarchically promote this departure from correct procedure. He finally caved to consumer outrage and maybe saw the error of his ways. The commission itself needs to be somehow punished for allowing PG&E’s corporate thugs to ride roughshod over the public. Really, the best thing would be for it to somehow absorb the extra costs. But, alas, when it reaches down into its pockets, we the public feel the touch.

    At least additional violence has been averted. Don’t we have a newly elected governor who should be interested in these events?

  4. EIR WAS AVOIDED TO KEEP PROBLEM ISSUES OUT OF SIGHT.

    PG$E’S DECEPTIVE MANAGEMENT STRATEGY:

    PG$E’s Management Strategy was to get the 10 million Wireless Meters deployed as fast as they could without the people knowing much, if anything, about it.

    Then PG$E will make huge windfall profits (none shared with customers) by firing all the meter readers and collecting huge $ penalties from customers for reconnection service. PG$E will be able to disconnect and reconnect service remotely with the click of a mouse with the WIRELESS meters.

    After installation and problems occur, PG$E will be paid to fix and solve and correct the problems, so the more problems, the more money will flow to PG$E. And it will all be paid by customers via rate increases and all kinds of other allowances approved by the PUC.

    The Attorney, Lindh, for the PUC was previously the attorney for PG$E.
    The Chairman of the PUC, Peevey, was previously the President of the Utility Company.

    PG$E was caught/busted/revealed prior to completion of deployment of all the 10 million WIRELESS meters.

    So the current PG$E PROPAGANDA THEME is that they did a BAD JOB WITH COMMUNICATIONS.

    But that is NOT true. That propaganda theme simply continues to cover up and disguise the REAL PROBLEMS FOR CUSTOMERS.

    If PG$E communicated well from the beginning then customers would all know that:
    1. The Wireless smart Meters Deployed (WMD) do NOT reduce energy usage.
    2. The Wireless smart Meters Deployed (WMD) do not reduce utility bills.
    3. The WMD do not facilitate renewable energy integrating into the grid.
    4. The WMD jeopardize the overall effectiveness of a smart grid.
    5. The WMD create security problems that WIRED smart meters do NOT.
    6. The WMD create hacking opportunities for high tech home robbers.
    7. The WMD create interference with other electrical and motion detector devices.
    8. The WMD have started fires at homes and businesses.
    9. The WMD are still suspects in the ignition of the San Bruno Fire & Explosion.
    10. The WMD emit pulsed RF signal radiation 24/7 without a shut off switch. Levels of that radiation, even lower than emitted by WMD, have been observed in laboratory tests (in test tubes and the brains of lab rats) to cause CELL DAMAGE, DNA CHAIN BREAKS, BREACHES IN THE BLOOD-BRAIN BARRIER.
    11. The WMD emit pulsed radiation approximately 25,000 times per day, contrary to PG$E’s claims.
    12. The WMD radiation will be absorbed by and pass through our children’s bodies and brains without relief in our homes, even when they are sleeping.
    13. The WMD will collect personal and intimate private information from our homes and PG$E Corporate Management, the same group that killed children in Hinkley California as documented in the Julia Roberts Erin Brockovich Movie, will be the caretaker of that information. PG$E Corporate Management says they won’t “Accidentally” allow our information to be stolen or lost, they won’t sell or sneak it to commercial organizations that desperately want it in order to know more about our intimate use to sell us things.

    PG$E Corporate Management told the families in Hinkley California that the water was safe (EVEN THOUGH THEY KNEW IT WAS NOT SAFE) so the children drank it, swam in it and showered in it and then had to have operations removing organs in their bodies and suffering terrible painful paths to their deaths.

    These are the same PG$E Corporate Management that are attending our city council and board of supervisor meetings and holding “Education” meetings for customers.

    The PUC and the utility company in Maine are already talking about actual options to Wireless meters after only a couple months of complaints from customers while the PUC in California took four years to look at options. And of course PG$E is NOT including a single knowledgeable CUSTOMER in their “Considerations” of opt-out.

    These PG$E monsters and the Chairman of the PUC, that previously was the President of the Utility Company, should be tried for crimes against nature, children and humanity and then placed in the most secure and hard-time prisons as a token of what they truly deserve.

  5. A Smart Meter on the outside of a bedroom wall is unacceptable.

    Any scientist will tell you that the best way to protect yourself
    from EMF’s is distance.

    You can not turn off a Smart Meter like other EMF emitting devices.

    PG & E could be transmitting information throughout the night while you or your
    growing children are sleeping inches away from it.

    EMF’s interfere with DNA, the blood brain barrier, and sleep patterns.

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