By B.N. Frank
Opposition to utility “smart” meters (electric, gas, and water) has been ongoing worldwide since they started being deployed over a decade ago. These devices have been associated with
- billing errors as well as higher bills (see 1, 2)
- cybersecurity risks
- fires and explosions (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
- installation mishaps
- harmful radiation emissions
- mechanical issues and
- short lifespans
Despite all of the above, utility companies continue to force their installation (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) so they can remotely control and/or ration energy use (see 1, 2) as well as collect consumer usage data 24/7 to sell and/or share with 3rd parties (see 1, 2). Adding insult to injury, proponents continue to insist that “smart” meters are essential for “energy efficiency”, even though research has proven otherwise (see 1, 2, 3).
Thanks to Children’s Health Defense for publishing an article that provides more details about why consumers should be able to say “no” to smart meters as well as inferior “opt-out” meters being offered by utilities.
Don’t Want a Smart Meter? Take It Up With Your State Lawmakers, Experts Say
State legislatures and the state utility commissions are where the battle to opt out of smart meters must be fought, according to W. Scott McCollough, former Texas assistant attorney general, and telecom and administrative law attorney and lead litigator for Children’s Health Defense.
Massachusetts last month became the latest state to introduce smart meter legislation with a bill that would require the state’s utility companies to obtain written consent from consumers before installing a smart meter.
The bill also would also eliminate fees for consumers who want to opt out of smart meters.
Massachusetts Sen. Michael O. Moore introduced the bill on Jan. 19, less than a week after the state’s two largest utility companies — Eversource and National Grid — filed tariff requests seeking to charge consumers a smart meter opt-out fee of $34 per month and $11 per month, respectively.
Massachusetts is one of at least seven states that have a statewide smart meter opt-out policy, according to an August 2019 brief by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
New York also last month introduced legislation in the form of a bill that would direct utility companies to study the “potential health risks and effects of smart meters” and report their findings to a public service commission, which would then present the information to the governor and legislature.
Other states already have passed laws governing smart meters. For example, California was the first state to create an opt-out program, according to the Coalition to Stop Smart Meters in British Columbia, Canada.
According to the NCSL:
“In another 22 states, utility regulators have ruled on whether utilities can implement opt-out programs on a case-by-case basis.
“In recent years, the issue has more frequently landed before state legislatures, with at least 17 states considering smart meter opt-out legislation in the past four legislative sessions.”
However, up-to-date estimates of state-level smart meter legislation are difficult to come by because the issue is sometimes handled at the municipal level or via the policy of the individual utility providers — of which there may be more than one in a given state.
As a wireless technology, smart meters emit a form of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) called radiowaves, or radiofrequencies (RF). Some people — particularly those who experience electromagnetic sensitivity — allege that exposure to RF through smart meters installed at their homes has a negative effect on their health.
“Smart meters threaten the health and well-being of those who are or will be sensitive to EMR,” said W. Scott McCollough, lead litigator on behalf of Children’s Health Defense’s EMR-related legal work.
McCollough, a former Texas assistant attorney general and telecom and administrative law attorney, told The Defender:
“State legislatures and the state utility commissions are where this battle must be fought in terms of a general right to opt out.
“People who care about such things should write their elected representatives and demand a right to opt out.”
As of September 2022, more than a dozen U.S. utilities and multiple Canadian utilities do not offer an analog opt-out option, according to a comprehensive list compiled by the Coalition to Stop Smart Meters.
McCollough underscored the importance of concerned citizens telling their state legislators to enact opt-out legislation, preferably without additional charge.
Sometimes utility companies offer choices, but …
In some states that don’t have laws governing smart meters, some utility companies voluntarily — sometimes under consumer pressure — offer alternatives to smart meters, although those alternatives may not be as consumer-friendly as protections afforded by state laws.
In Hawaii, customers of Maui Utility can choose to opt in — rather than opt out — of having a smart meter installed.
But in Virginia, Dominion Energy provides consumers an “opt-out meter” — but it’s just a smart meter that is supposed to have the RF antennae disabled or removed, said Jenny DeMarco, communications director for Virginians for Safe Technology.
Patricia Burke of Safe Tech International said this type of meter — assuming the RF antennae has been effectively disabled or removed — may still bring dirty electricity, another form of EMR “pollution,” into a home and could exacerbate the symptoms of those who experience electromagnetic sensitivity.
Additionally, this version of a smart meter still poses health risks, according to Dr. Alexia McKnight, a veterinary radiologist active in smart meter citizens’ rights in Pennsylvania.
“Given that the RF emissions are not the only mechanism of injury, these ‘opt-out smart meters’ usually still contain a switch mode power supply to operate the digital display,” McKnight said.
“This switch mode power supply is responsible for an excessive amount of conducted emissions that are placed onto and broadcast from the building’s wiring into the living spaces. These conducted emissions are the ‘dirty electricity’ problem from smart meters.
“Some experts warn that the radiation caused by these unintentional conducted emissions may even be more hazardous to biological function than the more well-known radio frequency radiation the meters were designed to emit.
“All this to say that electromechanical analog meters do not have switch mode power supplies, they do not have the conducted emissions problem, they do not emit RF, and they entirely resolve the clinical suffering caused by any and all mechanisms of injury from smart meters.”
“Customers should be demanding electromechanical analog meters and utilities should be providing them,” McKnight said.
The number of smart meters installed on the U.S. grid reached 103.1 million in 2020, according to an assessment of the country’s demand response and advanced metering capabilities published in December 2022 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, UtilityDive reported on Dec. 21, 2022.
The Edison Foundation’s Institute for Electric Innovation in April 2022 estimated more than 124 million smart meters would be installed covering 78% of U.S. households by the close of 2022 — and that number continues to grow in 2023.
Must read! Why smart meters are good for utility companies but bad for consumers…https://t.co/GrSdwx9ppU
— Robert F. Kennedy Jr (@RobertKennedyJr) February 3, 2023
Worcester, Massachusetts: ‘on the front lines of the smart meter battle’
Under the bill introduced in Massachusetts by Moore, the state’s Department of Public Utilities would have to require utility companies to provide consumers:
(1) A choice of the type of utility meters to be installed and operated on their places of residence, property or business; among the choices offered shall be the installation and ongoing operation of an “electromechanical analog meter”; and
(2) The ability to retain and operate an “electromechanical analog meter” on an ongoing basis at no cost; and
(3) The right to replacement of a wireless meter with a non-transmitting electromechanical meter at no cost.
Moore’s district of Worcester, Massachusetts, has “been on the front lines of the smart meter battle” since 2013, when roughly 15,000 of its citizens were auto-enrolled in National Grid’s Smart Grid pilot program, according to Burke.
According to a report prepared by Burke, “‘Smart’ electricity meters were installed on homes and businesses selected by National Grid,” an international electricity and gas company based in the U.K. and northeastern U.S.
While the program, initially budgeted at $45 million, was promoted as “free” to the community, “the cost of the pilot was borne by National Grid ratepayers,” according to the report, and costs reportedly ballooned to $60 million before the pilot reached the halfway mark.
Testimony submitted to the state’s public utilities department and to former Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker presented evidence of the program’s “misleading and/or fraudulent results reporting,” including “inaccurate misleading reporting of retention, opt-outs, and number of participants; inaccurate misleading reporting of cost savings; [and] inaccurate misleading reporting of energy savings.”
Burke and two others petitioned the state legislature to “establish a special commission to investigate the results of the pilot program, which was over budget, behind schedule, and overran community and consumer rights.”
Burke said she hopes the new administration will investigate “the actions of the department of public utilities, the investor-owned utility companies and others who were involved in the controversial program.”
Utilities bring in tobacco scientist to testify that smart meters are ‘safe’
In an attempt to override Worcester citizens’ concerns about how smart meters can damage health, Peter Valberg, Ph.D., former professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and advising principal of the environmental consulting firm Gradient Corporation, in Feb. 2014 testified before the city’s zoning board.
Grassroots organizations, including HaltMASmartMeters.org and StopSmartMetersMassachusetts.org, said in an email to the public utilities department that the “testimony by Dr. Peter Valberg of Gradient concerning the safety of non-ionizing radiation should be discounted in its entirety” because Valberg could not be considered “an independent expert witness” and he “did not disclose a financial conflict of interest.”
“Dr. Valberg has made a career misrepresenting safety science on behalf of the cigarette, asbestos, and hexa-chrome industries, and should be rejected as an expert witness on ethical grounds.”
According to a 2016 report by The Center for Public Integrity, “Gradient belongs to a breed of scientific consulting firms that defends the products of its corporate clients beyond credulity, even exhaustively studied substances whose dangers are not in doubt, such as asbestos, lead and arsenic.”
Commenting on Valberg and other scientists with Gradient, Bruce Lanphear, M.D., MPH — a professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia — told The Center for Public Integrity, “They truly are the epitome of rented white coats.”
New York’s proposed laws don’t go far enough, activists say
In April 2022, Harckham introduced a bill — Senate Bill S8765 — that would amend business law to make it “the right of every consumer of an electric corporation or gas corporation, at no penalty, fee, or service charge, to decline permission to their electric corporation or gas corporation: (a) to replace an existing analog utility meter at such consumer’s premises that is assigned to such consumer’s account with a digital utility meter; or (b) to install a digital utility meter at their property without such consumer’s consent.”
Both bills are currently in committee and have yet to be voted on.
On Feb. 7, Les Jamieson, a member of New Yorkers 4 Wired Tech, Odette Wilkens, an attorney and founder of NY Wired Broadband and Bill Bathgate, an engineer and certified building biology environmental consultant, presented evidence to the New York senate underscoring the importance of such legislation — and arguing that the law should go even further.
In their 34-page presentation, Jamieson, Wilkens and Bathgate outlined how smart meters exacerbate — rather than mitigate — climate change, why they pose security risks, how they are linked to adverse health conditions and how they can increase consumers’ energy bills.
Unlike an analog meter which has no electronics inside, smart meters are “actually a powerful computer, not just a meter” that requires power from an energy grid to run, according to the presenters.
“There are special circuits that convert the AC power to DC to power the electronics of the circuit boards, CPUs, memory switching power supplies, LCDs, a solenoid and many others functions, etc.,” they said, adding, “Those all consume power.”
Jamieson, Wilkens and Bathgate said smart meters pose a security risk to consumers because they can be physically hacked and programmed using a special tool.
This “physical backdoor” bypasses encryption, they said, allowing consumers’ privacy to be violated by allowing “the insertion of code, altering the network traffic and injecting malicious code” that could possibly result in the power being shut down.
There is evidence of smart meters delivering inaccurate readings, which can affect consumers’ energy bills.
Moreover, smart meters — with or without the transmitting antennae turned on — feed “conducted emissions” back into the home wiring at the load panel and are not compliant with FCC [Federal Communications Commission] rules for conducted emissions Class A (industrial emissions limits) or Class B (commercial emissions limits), the presenters said.
“This is placing stress on all electronics and electric motors in the home, causing early appliance motor failures, appliance electronic control failures and radio interference, in addition to health effects such as insomnia, tinnitus, headaches, high blood sugar levels and nervous disorders such as neuropathy and heart arrhythmia,” they added.
In order to solve this, they said, manufacturers would need to redesign the meter so it “connects to an earth ground path to sink the oscillations to the home ground rod.”
A March 2022 technical test done by researchers with the Environmental Health Trust concluded that smart meters “pollute the electricity grid” in buildings with more “dirty electricity” than analog meters.
“Dirty electricity,” the researchers said, “is an industry term for several types of electrical noise spreading through power lines and creating or affecting electromagnetic fields around them.”
Because of this, smart meters “have the potential to be a health problem — even when they are ‘un-smartened,’ i.e., with the radio transmitters in the meters removed or silenced,” they added.
Opting out isn’t enough in urban areas, smart meter critics say
Jamieson, Wilkens and Bathgate told New York legislators that while they supported Harckham’s first bill because it would provide “utility customers with residential accounts” the ability to retain the use of their analog meter without fees, “additional consumer protections to a broader scope of state residents” are needed.
They pointed out that an individual living in an urban area who submits an opt-out request may still be affected by the RF radiation from nearby smart meters.
“The meter RF signal can travel 1,400 – 1,500 feet, right through a brick wall, making an opt-out program useless in an apartment complex scenario,” they said.
In their presentation, they wrote:
“There are many thousands of NY residents who own multi-family homes. In the interest of their rights as property owners, it is important that they be able to have analog meter choice for their entire property, not just the unit they live in.
“They need to be able to opt out for their rental units, and for accounts covering common areas within the building, such as hallways. Currently, hallways are designated by the utilities as being commercial. There is no opt-out choice for any accounts designated as commercial.
“Owners of small businesses with accounts designated as commercial need to have analog meter choice. These include restaurants, and all manner of neighborhood shops. Owners and their staff spend substantial time in close proximity to utility meters.
“Residents and pedestrians near buildings with digital meters installed on their exterior need protection from exposure to their RF emissions which are pulsed frequencies. This can be done with meter covers made up of a protective shielding material. Ideally, there should also be shielding behind the meter panel as well.
“Large residential buildings have large panels with utility meters. These panels with digital meters also need to have meter covers made of protective shielding material. If the location of the digital meters is adjacent to living space, there needs to be shielding behind the digital meters as well.”
They suggested state lawmakers include these additional protections as an amendment to Harckham’s bill or develop them into a separate companion bill.
Maine court rules against citizens who want analog meters
In another recent example of citizens battling for the right to opt out of smart meters, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Jan. 24 issued a decision allowing Central Maine Power (CMP) to offer residents who apply to its smart meter opt-out program a “non-communicating” meter — a smart meter that ostensibly has had its two-way communication module disabled — instead of electromechanical (analog) meters, as an alternative to smart meters.”
When CMP initiated its smart meter opt-out program, in 2011, the company offered an analog meter or a smart meter with the transmitter turned off.
However, CMP later sought to revise the terms and conditions of its opt-out program, noting that a state commission had ruled that digital non-communicating meters posed no more risk than analog meters.
The commission also found that analog meters are no longer widely available and that “the proposed changes to the terms and conditions would provide safe, reasonable, and adequate facilities and service,” according to the court’s ruling.
Citizens with the Maine Coalition to Stop Smart Meters challenged the commission’s conclusions, arguing that CMP had an obligation to supply analog meters. They pointed out the ready availability of refurbished analog meters and the need for CMP to set up a program of rolling meter refurbishments.
The coalition also argued that the commission’s finding that digital non-communicating meters are safe was not supported by “substantial evidence” and its decision to approve the revised terms and conditions was “arbitrary and capricious.”
However, the court disagreed, stating that the commission’s findings were supported by substantial evidence.
Commenting on the Maine court’s decision, McCollough condemned the fact that state utility commissions are making life-and-death decisions when they don’t have the required scientific expertise and are too captured by the utilities.
“The problem with applying ‘substantial evidence’ review here is that the entire concept is based on an assumption that the agency is in fact the expert agency and is acting in the public’s interest — rather than the public utility’s interest — when that is not true in this case.”
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Activist Post reports regularly about “smart” meters and other privacy invasive and unsafe technologies. For more information, visit our archives and the following websites:
- Children’s Health Defense
- Americans for Responsible Technology
- Environmental Health Trust
- Electromagnetic Radiation Safety
- Physicians for Safe Technology
- Stop Smart Meters.org
- Smart Meter Harm
- Smart Grid Awareness
- Smart Meter Education Network
- Smart Meter News
- Coalition to Stop Smart Meters
- EMF Safety Network
- Take Back Your Power
- The People’s Initiative
- Wireless Information Network
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