From The Desert Sun
IID board responds as smart meters hit wave of opposition
Jun. 8, 2011
The Imperial Irrigation District will likely offer its customers an opt-out plan when the district starts installing smart meters in its service territory in the Coachella and Imperial valleys.
The IID board has yet to approve a meter replacement plan. But even the possibility that it may be getting the digital devices — already installed in Southern California Edison’s service area in the valley — has some customers on high alert.
“What we fear coming is a tsunami of smart meters,” said Len Wahlert, a La Quinta resident who spoke during the public comment section of Tuesday’s IID board meeting.
Wahlert was one of about 10 ratepayers who said he was concerned about health, safety, privacy and the cost issues related to the new meters, which can use wireless technology that emits radio frequencies.
“This isn’t just a smart meter, it’s a smart grid,” said Myrette Rogers of Sky Valley, another IID customer who spoke at the meeting. “I’m just someone out there using your power. I can’t sit still and let something happen that could be dangerous.”
Board member Anthony Sanchez answered the group’s concerns with an unequivocal reassurance.
“People will have the option to opt out,” he said.
The district’s plans to replace 100,000 of its 147,000 meters — many of which are outdated — are still being finalized, said Mario Escalera, an energy manager for the district, which serves residents in La Quinta, Indio and Coachella, as well as Bermuda Dunes and other unincorporated areas east of Washington Street.
Replacement meters will cost about $29 million, to be paid out of the district’s operating budget, he said.
That cost will be balanced by savings of about $27.5 million in efficiencies the meters will produce over an eight-year period, he said.IID’s 25 meter readers will be reassigned, he said, with no job losses. IID officials also stressed that the meter replacement program will be different from controversial smart meter programs introduced by private utilities such as Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric.
While a recent study by the California Council on Science and Technology found no health threats related to the radio frequencies emitted by the digital meters, customer protests in Northern California forced PG&E to offer a proposal for an opt-out plan.
The California Public Utilities Commission has yet to approve the proposed plan that will allow customers to have the radio signals on installed smart meters turned off for a one-time fee topping out at $270.
In addition, opting out would put an extra $10 to $20 on customers’ bills.
IID officials said they have yet to make any decisions about what extra costs such a plan might incur.
The district plan does not include using the meters to control power loads – for example, turning off power during hot weather peaks – or for continuous monitoring of home or business energy use.Nor will the district be introducing variable pricing or time-of-use rates that charge different rates depending on the time of day power is used, as Edison is planning, Escalera said.
Before any roll-out, the district will have public meetings in both the Coachella and Imperial valleys, Escalera said.
But Wahlert said even an opt-out plan may not be enough to assuage customer concerns.
“One house has an opt-out but they’re surrounded by other houses that have meters,” he said. “Just one family not having a meter really doesn’t solve the problem.”
SMART METERS – WHY LA QUINTA CITIZENS SHOULD BE CONCERNED
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SMART METERS:
This briefing letter has been prepared to educate home owners about the potential health, safety, security and economic issues related to roll-out of the California Electric Utilities Smart Meter programs. This program, when initiated, will result in your electric meter being changed out by your Utility and a new Smart Meter will be installed in its place. These new meters may have substantial effects on your family and property.
Prior to meter replacement, the government authorities and the utilities have not conducted adequate studies addressing the potential health, safety, security and economic costs/benefit concerns that are being voiced around the country by consumers, utility analysts, economists, Internet security experts and parents.
RESIDENTS OF IMPERIAL IRRIGATION DISTRICT’S ELECTRICAL SERVICE AREA:
Imperial Irrigation District (IID) is planning to install Smart Meters in all of the homes in La Quinta, Indio, Coachella, Imperial Valley and the adjoining rural areas. Many homeowners are rejecting these installations and we, CCOLQ, are gathering signatures of those who oppose Smart Meter installations. These petitions will be submitted to IID in bulk.
Community Concerns and Issues:
The program is expensive with very little demonstration that consumers will want this service, or choose to participate. They include economic concerns, lack of privacy of personal information, easier disconnection of service, health and safety concerns, reliability, increased vulnerability to hacking, increased risk of planting of malicious software on networks, security risks when away from home (burglaries), fire risks, explosions, interference with critical care equipment (medical), and meter overcharges. While there is on-going deliberation about the pros and cons of smart meters, we hope our community will become better informed before the utility starts installing meters.
Are we, Concerned Citizens of La Quinta, alone in our questioning with regard to the installation of Smart Meters? The following list of California counties/cities are opposed to Smart Meters. Those in italic indicate an ordinance banning smart meters.
42 local California governmental jurisdictions opposed to smart meters in their communities:
The County Board of Supervisors of Humboldt, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Sonoma, Tehama.
The cities of Arcata, Belvedere, Berkeley, Blue Lake, Bolinas, Camp Meeker, Capitola, Clearlake, Cotati, Fairfax, Fort Bragg, Grover, Lakeport, Mill Valley, Monte Sereno, Monterey, Morro Bay, Novato, Pacific Grove, Piedmont, Richmond, Rio Dell, Ross, San Anselmo, San Rafael, Santa Cruz, Sausalito, Scotts Valley, Seaside, Sebastopol and Watsonville, Willits.
CCOLQ’s desire is to inform the City of La Quinta and IID that we oppose the installation of a wireless Smart Grid Meter at our home. We do not want our families to be exposed to the wireless electromagnetic fields (EMF) and radio frequency microwave radiation (RF) from the meter, the cell transmission towers. These fields can potentially interfere with electronic and medical devices, can cause potential security and hacking risks of personal information, and can be potential fire hazard from poorly installed meters.
1. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has begun requiring northern California Utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Company, to provide an “opt out” option for its customers but this is no solution to the individual homeowner as each home will still be under the influence of their neighbor’s Smart Meters and EMF Information Tower, thus, continued risks.
2. The value of Smart Meters is touted to be power-use timing and subsequent power savings. This cannot occur unless each household agrees to purchase and install a wireless sending unit from each of their electrical appliances. The average cost to the homeowner is estimated to be $200, or more, depending on the number of major appliances in the home. The fact that many homeowners would make these purchases is questionable.
3. It is reported by the Associated Press that computer-security researchers have stated that Smart Meters have flaws that could allow hackers to tamper with the power grid and with household information that was not previously possible.
4. Smart Meters costs, eventually paid through rate increases by the homeowner, are substantial. All costs including meters, transmission and technical facilities for the 20+ million PG&E customers is reported to be $2.2 Billion = $2100 per meter.
5. The studies that the utility industries are using to back up the safety of Smart Meters have been questioned by many influential individuals and organizations. There is an important need for an unbiased study of all details pertaining to their installation and should be addressed before any purchases/installations.
Please join us in support of opposing installation of Smart Meters in La Quinta and the Coachella Valley.
A recent article was published in the Los Angeles Times:
Opponents of PG&E ‘smart meters’ stand firm
The utility faces resistance from homeowners, city planners, environmentalists and political conservatives worried about health effects, accuracy, privacy and jurisdiction.
By Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times
May 29, 2011
Reporting from Fairfax, Calif.
Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s plan to install ‘smart meters’ in this affluent Bay Area community of eco-friendly homes, yoga studios and organic restaurants has unleashed a torrent of anger among customers who fear the devices will expose them to hazardous pulses of electromagnetic radiation.
Hundreds of Fairfax residents have posted red-and-white “Smart meter not here” signs beside their mechanical meters as a warning to PG&E technicians. A few have secured their spinning-dial meters with gates, cages and padlocks.
“There’s no way they’re taking my meters away, and I don’t want them putting things on my property that I don’t want,” said local Realtor Diane Hoffman, fastening a padlock onto a wooden gate guarding her home meter.
The power company, which has about 10 million customers from Bakersfield to Eureka, has installed nearly 8 million radio-controlled digital smart meters since last summer.
The meters transmit data about electrical use over wireless networks to the utility company, enabling it to assess power demands and make adjustments to prevent blackouts, and giving consumers real-time data to help them reduce consumption. They are an integral part of efforts to create a “smart grid” nationwide that uses electricity more efficiently and can better accommodate alternative energy sources.
Nonetheless, finishing the installation in California won’t be easy. The new meters have galvanized an unusual alliance of environmentalists, city planners, private land owners and politically conservative activists worried about the health effects, accuracy and privacy of smart meters, as well as jurisdictional conflicts with PG&E.
The “tea party” recently hosted a gathering of smart-meter opponents in Santa Barbara.
Protesters also gathered this month in Sacramento and at PG&E’s San Francisco headquarters. Joshua Hart, director of a group called Stop Smart Meters!, said participants included “people with heartbreaking personal stories to tell about sleeping in the parking lots of churches and department stores to escape the bursts of electromagnetic radiation that have made them ill and fearful.”
The cities of Fairfax, Capitola and Watsonville and Marin and Santa Cruz counties have approved emergency moratoriums on smart meters. The Fairfax Town Council plans to renew its one-year moratorium in this community of about 7,500 people.
“We refer to our moratorium as a cold truce in a low-intensity conflict,” said Mayor Larry Bragman, a local trial lawyer. “We’ve had ordinances on the books since 1997 requiring all proposed wireless communications projects to go through the town’s planning processes. PG&E completely circumvented all of that.”
He added, “The mayor and police will show up if they try and install a smart meter in town.”
Smart meters operate at low power and in the radio frequency portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. At these levels, radio signals from smart meters are unlikely to produce harmful thermal effects, according to a recent study by the nonpartisan, nonprofit California Council on Science and Technology, which advises state government on technology issues. The study determined that radio frequency emissions from smart meters fall well within federal safety standards for cellphones and microwave ovens.
Citing that study and others, PG&E says it would take 1,000 years of living next to a smart meter to get the same exposure to radio frequency emissions cellphone users get in just one month.
But non-thermal effects of absorbed radio frequency emissions on human health remain unclear. Complaints of “electromagnetic stress” blamed on cellphones and smart meters include such symptoms as headaches, fatigue and irritability.
Studies are being conducted to understand possible non-thermal effects, particularly any cumulative impact of living next to a network of smart meters.
PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith said local moratoriums are invalid. “PG&E does not and will not honor any moratorium because the smart-meter program falls under the jurisdiction of the California Public Utilities Commission,” he said.
But CPUC officials forced the utility to come up with an alternative plan for customers who object to the technology. In March, PG&E submitted a proposal that would allow customers to opt out of the program, provided they pay $135 to $270 to have the device’s radio transmitter disconnected. Those customers would be charged $14 to $20 per month for a technician to read their meter.
Ed Segal, chief executive of the Marin County Assn. of Realtors, described PG&E’s proposal as “extortion by a monopoly.”
Pending a final ruling on the proposal by the CPUC, customers who object to smart meters will be allowed to defer their installations, PG&E said.
“We’re trying hard to do a better job of reaching out to our customers in terms of explaining the smart-meter program and its benefits,” Smith said. “The problem was that when we started rolling out the program, we looked at it as just a hardware replacement job. We realized, not quickly enough, that the issue was very personal to some customers.”
David Owens, an executive vice president of the Edison Electric Institute, a lobbying arm of the utility industry, is on the same page.
“The pushback to smart meters has come from portions of California and Maine, and that’s because we haven’t done a good job of educating consumers,” he said. “We don’t want it to reach an epidemic stage, so we’re conducting surveys and focus groups and learning a lot about how to take the anxiety and sensational stuff out of this program.”
“I don’t even use the phrase ‘smart meter’ anymore,” he said. “I just call them automated metering devices.”
Barry Smith, executive director of a fledgling organization called Alliance for Human and Environmental Health, said Owens misses the point.
“The key issue for the CPUC to decide is whether entire communities have a right to opt out of the smart-meter program,” Smith said. “Do the laws on the books in our towns and counties matter? Or does industry alone determine outcomes for our citizens?”
Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times