California Town Trying to Stall Smart Meter Installation Over Health Risk Concerns

pge smart meter photo

Photo via PG&E;

The small town of Fairfax, just north of San Francisco, California, is hoping to stop or at least put a pause on Pacific Gas & Electric's smart meter installation project planned for July. The town council is raising concerns over the possible health risks presented by smart meters, saying that they could be worse than having cell phone towers nearby. But that's not their only complaint about the smart meters. The town also says the new meters will impact employment rates for those who read meters for a living, and that they hike up energy bills. So, they're urging the California Public Utilities Commission to put a moratorium on Pacific Gas & Electric's planned July deployment of the smart meters.

PG&E;, however, states that they offer training opportunities for meter readers in other jobs within the company, and the price hikes are usually due to seasonal changes, not mis-priced electricity.

According to Smart Meters, the town of Fairfax and PG&E; simply don't get along, since Fairfax strongly supports the Marin Clean Energy plan, which would allow the Marin Energy Authority to use PG&E; transmission lines to supply energy, including more renewable energy, to customers. However, PG&E; has been campaigning against it.

The safety concerns seem to be one more on a list of complaints. Mayor Lew Tremaine says, "The concern is that these things equate to cell phone towers times 10, and that the ambient electromagnetic and radio wave fields that will come as a result of having these things at every house running constantly is an unforeseen health risk. For people who are sensitive to electromagnetic radiation, it's going to be a living nightmare."

Concern over electromagnetic fields is shared by some other towns. Earlier in the year, some Sebastopol residents (another town north of San Francisco, CA) called smart meters into question, an argument that stemmed from the debate over whether or not radiation from cell phones and other wireless devices can cause cancer. But where the mayor got the number of 10 times worse than cell phone towers is unknown.

PG&E; spokesperson Paul Moreno has stated repeatedly that smart meters do not pose a health risk as the emitted radio signals are well within limits established by the Federal Communications Commission. "The meters emit a signal once every four hours for a fraction of a second, and at very low power," Moreno said. "These levels are far below what you would find in many common household appliances."

Of course there is still the debate on whether or not even these low levels are safe, but for now, PG&E; is continuing to push for smart meter installation. Until the questions of if and how radiation from electromagnetic and radio wave fields are damaging to human health, there doesn't seem to be much foundation for stopping smart meters on this basis since they hold the potential to drastically reduce energy consumption. To some extent, the real argument is would residents rather bicker over smart meters in their homes, or a new power plant next door? It seems utilities need to work harder on educating consumers about the purpose of smart meters, the roll they play in energy conservation, and the security of user information so that consumers are not so wary about the new meters.

Smart meters are being installed all over California, including Southern California Edison's project to install over 5 million smart meters by 2012.

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