Radiation fears stymie SmartMeter installation
COMMERCIAL: California is on the cutting edge of the new green economy and SmartMeters are part of that edge. We’ve been in the dark far too long, and I feel enlightened because it provides the opportunity to conserve energy.
Well, PG&E's paying a fair penny for the woman featured in the commercial to feel enlightened. She’s part of an ad campaign you can find on network TV along with the websites of the San Francisco Chronicle and Oakland Tribune. And while it's certainly possible the customers who are paying PG&E may feel enlightened by SmartMeters too, some would prefer to turn out the lights on the new technology.
KALW’s Brian Pelletier has the story.
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BRIAN PELLETIER: This story begins with a realization…
PETER DARBEE: Climate change is real. It’s urgent. It’s most likely the result of what humans have done to the atmosphere and that the need for action was now.
So that revelation won’t knock a lot of people out of their chairs – even if it came four years ago. We all knew something was going on. The earth is hot and getting hotter. But this is what made it interesting: the guy who said…
DARBEE: Climate change is real...
...is Peter Darbee, CEO of Pacific Gas & Electric. And he’s got the power to do something significant about it. Something revolutionary.
PG&E COMMERCIAL: Having the SmartMeter and knowing exactly what our usage is, it gives us more power as consumers. They provide the opportunity for people to understand what they use and how they use it. Information is power and SmartMeter provides that information.
SmartMeters are computers, basically. Wireless information gatherers that can send real-time information about your account to PG&E. The technology also allows you to check out how much energy you’re using at any given time instead of being surprised by your energy bill at the end of the month.
And SmartMeters are part of Peter Darbee's solution to the climate change problem: a visionary plan to help Americans use energy more efficiently, and save the planet in the process. Right?
DARBEE: We’ve been a pioneer with SmartMeters. But the question is, "Are we going to be punished for that?"
Interesting question. Well, “punished” may be a strong word. But, basically, the answer is “yes.”
JOSH HART: Inaccurate meter readings, overcharging customers for their electricity and gas usage, serious concerns about health impacts of the EMF radiation from the meters, to fire safety to layoffs of meter readers at a time of high employment…
Josh Hart doesn’t like SmartMeters. In fact, he leads the group Scotts Valley Neighbors Against SmartMeters. Note: it’s not called “Scotts Valley Neighbors Against Pioneering Better Energy Practices.”
JOSH HART: We all need to reduce our energy consumption to prevent climate change. There’s no question about that. The problem is the wireless element to this whole program.
Hart says the electromagnetic frequency, the EMF, which is used to remotely send information from the SmartMeter on the side of your home to PG&E can make people sick. Some studies suggest it may even cause brain tumors. But the Federal Communications Commission, the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers all say studies on whether the radiation can cause cancer are so far inconclusive. But if the issue is studying long-term effects, that means safety assurances may be just as uncertain. And for Hart’s money...
HART: They could have installed the SmartMeters using fiber optic technology, wire technology, that wouldn’t have the same health risks that they are taking with wireless technology.
Now, you may think Hart’s arguments are a little out there. Scotts Valley is off in the woods, after all. But officials in the cities of Novato and San Francisco and supervisors in Santa Cruz and Marin County have all asked the California Public Utilities Commission for a moratorium on SmartMeter installation pending further tests on electromagnetic frequency emissions.
DARBEE: Pioneers get a lot of arrows. They got a lot of arrows when they were breaking into America, and we’re getting a lot of arrows here. And the fact of the matter is those people who come second or third can look at the path that’s been created, and they can see where people did things better or did things worse, and they can correct and look smarter and better.
But it takes a pioneer to break that ground and unless someone has the courage, the guts or the vision to do that then no one gets to America or the West Coast.
PG&E's pioneering CEO Peter Darbee says the EMF emissions from SmartMeters are far less than the average cell phone user gets by talking on the phone, and that the company needs to teach customers about the many benefits SmartMeters offer. So ... the ad campaign. But if other cities and towns decide to join the push for a SmartMeter moratorium, there’s a chance the green technology of the future might not make it past the present.
For Crosscurrents, I’m Brian Pelletier.