Business

Residents express concern over SmartMeter radiation

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Just before Josh Hart stepped into today's California Public Utilities Commission meeting to join a group of people protesting PG&E's ongoing installation of SmartMeters, Hart sold his cell phone.

His concerns about cell phones are the same concerns he has about SmartMeters -- namely, he's worried that the electromagnetic radiation emitted by these wireless technologies will have long-term, detrimental health effects.

"We're just flooding our environment with electromagnetic radiation," he said. And we're doing it, he added, without understanding the potential health consequences of that deluge.

SmartMeters are advanced utility meters that wirelessly communicate usage information to customers and utility companies. PG&E has scheduled installations of them for all of their customers by mid-2012.

There is no opt-out for customers who do not want a SmartMeter installed, according to PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith.

Hart is part of a growing movement of people calling for a moratorium on PG&E SmartMeter installations because of concerns over electromagnetic radiation exposure.

At today's public utilities commission meeting, Hart and about 15 others -- some who said they suffer from electro-hypersensitivity caused by frequent exposure to electromagnetic waves from cell towers and other wireless technologies -- spoke to the commissioners about their concerns.

The California Pacific Utilities Commission allowed PG&E to install the meters in July 2006 because, they said, the meters would give customers detailed information about their own energy usage and encourage them to cut down. But Hart, an environmental activist, said the program is a "false solution" to climate change.

Ever since the utility company began installations in November 2006, the SmartMeter program has raised a smorgasbord of concerns, including a number from customers who claimed they were overcharged by their new meters.

After the utilities commission, PG&E and various consumer advocacy groups received these complaints, the commission launched an investigation into the accuracy of the meters.

In mid June, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera asked the utilities commission to halt PG&E's SmartMeter program in the city until that investigation is complete.

An increasing number of counties in the Bay Area are following suit, including Santa Cruz and Marin counties. Many cite issues with meter accuracy as their main concern.

Speakers at today's protest said the radiation could contribute to everything from cancerous tumors to autism.

"I'm just really, really appalled at what I've heard," Hart said.

But Smith, of PG&E, said the World Health Organization has reviewed the issue in depth and concluded there was no connection between low-level electromagnetic emissions and negative health effects.

Smith also said the radiation emissions from SmartMeters are less than those of many common household appliances, including computers.

PG&E complies with Federal Communications Commission regulations "by a very wide margin," he said.

When asked why there is no opt-out option for customers who prefer not to have the meters installed, Smith said the company doesn't believe an opt-out is necessary.

"If customers have concerns, we encourage them to call us," he said.

As of today, Hart will no longer be able to make that call from a cell phone. When he handed the cell phone to a buyer he met on Craigslist this morning, Hart said he felt a little guilty.

It felt, he said, like handing someone a pack of cigarettes. But if he didn't sell her the phone, "She'll just go buy one somewhere else," he said.

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smartmeter, PG&E, business
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