6 Reasons “Smart” Meters are a Class Issue

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As class riots engulf the UK and the global economy teeters on a precipice, it seems the right time to take a look at how the forced “smart” meter installations now affecting many parts of California and other states are at their root, a class issue.

“Social classes don’t exist in the United States” we hear ringing in our ears. Nearly everyone- from those living in trailer parks to those inhabiting sprawling hillside mansions- has been well trained to consider themselves “middle class.” However, the broad definition of “middle class” obscures important differences in who benefits and who suffers under the current system.

Decisions about whether, when, and how to undertake one of the largest technology rollouts in history-involving billions of our dollars- have been made by a small number of utility and industry executives, in collusion with government officials largely in backrooms, with virtually no consultation- or even notification of the public.

Let’s just come out and say it- “smart” meters benefit the ruling class at the expense of the working class. What do we mean by this?

1) The working class tend to be renters, and live in large apartment blocks with little choice about their proximity to large banks of meters, while the upper class tend to live in detached homes, with control over their meters. Wealthier people in larger homes also have the luxury of choosing to spend more time away from their meter, at the other end of their large homes. How many PG&E executives are living with “smart” meters on their bedroom walls?

2) Increases in utility costs- approved by the CA PUC and other state regulatory agencies to pay for the dumb meters that we never asked for, are essentially a regressive tax- consuming a much larger proportion of household income for poor households than rich. How much money (and pollution) would have been saved if the federal government had spent all these billions on efficiency improvements, insulation and local renewable energy projects instead of a technocratic boondoggle?

3) Time of use pricing- which “smart” meters enable- will allow utilities to charge more for electricity during hot days when industry needs it and when air conditioning demand is high. Many low income people are at home during the day and don’t have a choice when they use electricity. Many work from home, or care for elderly or sick relatives. Under a time of use system, while rich executives are at work using little electricity at their homes, many poor people will be at home needing to use appliances to keep their lives running- but under a time of use system they will be penalized for this. In practice, this means that working class people will end up doing their laundry in the middle of the night or on weekends, especially in large apartment buldings where everyone shares a small laundry room. The utilities apparently expect working people to give up their limited time to spend with their families and rest up for the coming work day, to accommodate industry and its insatiable appetite for power. This inequitable situation has been at the center of the AARP’s demand for more consumer protections as smart meters are installed.

4) If a low income household cannot pay their bill, PG&E has been ruthless in switching them off, leading to safety issues as extension cords are often strung together to provide the light and heat people need for their families. This leads to house fires, like the one last December in which an East Oakland family of three perished in what was essentially a preventable tragedy. With the “smart” meter, the utility can switch you off remotely, regardless of unique situations like medical equipment being operated in the home. With the analog meter, they had to send a human being out to disconnect your service (and make sure this doesn’t kill someone). There are already cases of people being incorrectly billed for their neighbors usage because of the unreliable nature of wireless technology- how long before a mistaken disconnection occurs and someone dies when the wireless signals get crossed?


5) Though the utilities and the government would never admit it, there is the very real possibility of widespread, intentional disconnections- along economic dividing lines- during peak demand as we enter an age of constrained energy supplies. Familiar with the concept of HOT lanes or “Lexus Lanes” common in California? These allow drivers who can afford to pay $10 or so to enter the carpool lane and fly by the hot and congested masses even if they are only a single driver. Imagine it’s the year 2016 and we are sweltering in a hot August afternoon. Several months back, you tore up the notice from your utility offering “energy stability” because you couldn’t afford the extra fee associated with the service. As 2pm rolls around, you get an automated phone call from the utility telling you that your electricity is about to be switched off. Your 80 year old mother in the other room swelters in the heat as you gaze up at the large home on the hill whose residents are enjoying cold margaritas and an air conditioned living space thanks to the extra fee they paid to the utility. (Perhaps they made this money from poor ratepayers, through PG&E’s guaranteed 11.5% return on investment.) Cool.

6) If you are poor, you are statistically more likely to suffer from health problems associated with stress, and exposure to polluted environments (from car exhaust, noise, industrial pollutants, as well as emf electrosmog from cell towers, and “smart” meters.) If the new meters make you sick- as they have done to thousands of innocent Californians- you are less likely to be able to afford quality health care to treat your illness or disease. If the Class 2B carcinogen pulsing out 24/7 from your smart meter gives you cancer, don’t expect the utility to take care of you.

The (predominantly) rich white men in suits who designed this program are well rewarded for their arrogance and recklessness with our money. That’s the way the system works.

Take for example the astronomical- even absurd salary packages of top utility company executives. When Peter Darbee, former CEO of PG&E Corp. announced his “retirement” in April partly in response to the growing revolt over dumb meters, he was to receive a $35 million retirement package, mostly out of ratepayer funds. After nervous twittering that this was going to look really bad, Gov. Jerry Brown sought to separate himself from the utility (even though his top advisor Nancy McFadden also works for PG&E) and demanded that shareholder funds – not ratepayer funds- pay for Darbee’s luxurious retirement. Darbee still walked away with $35 million of our money, just not quite as directly a cashflow from our wallet to his, as that would have been politically problematic.

Now to put this kind of money in perspective, if you decided to be generous and let Mr. Darbee keep $13 million for his retirement, you would still have enough money from this monstrous package ($22 million) to keep all 70 of CA’s state parks threatened with closure- open for the next two years.

So there you have it- ONE rich man getting a super duper cushy retirement instead of just a very cushy retirement, as critical natural and recreational resources for a state with a population of 40 million get flushed down the toilet. Boy, you are a real fighter for the people, Jerry Brown.

The point is that the people making these decisions don’t care about your family. They don’t care about your health, your financial stability, or preserving your privacy. They don’t care about the environment or the future. They do care about amassing ever larger piles of money, money that will end up being just about as useful as kindling when the environment is so destroyed and resources all consumed that we can’t even produce enough food to fill supermarket shelves.

It’s time that we stop giving these clowns our power and start realizing that we have the right to safe, reliable utility service at reasonable rates.” That we have a right to reject stupid meters from our homes, as well as our communities. That those who suffer from electro-sensitivity have a right to participate freely in society. And that those who are attempting to take away those rights from the majority are in fact- the minority. No amount of propaganda or buck-passing can obscure that basic fact. Class dismissed.

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