Photo by PGEgreenenergy via Flickr Creative Commons
Several utilities in California have been installing smart meters like crazy across the state, though none with as much attention as Pacific Gas & Electric. The utility has made great strides in installations, but has at the same time drummed up a lot of discomfort and outright disdain from consumers in some communities who feel that the smart meters pose a health risk as well as a privacy concern. This concern is why Assemblymember Jared Huffman introduced a bill that would require the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to allow consumers to opt out of getting a wireless smart meter installed at their home. The bill may offer some sense of control for consumers over how their utility information is gathered, but it could also change the effectiveness of an integrated smart grid if chunks of consumers choose not to participate. So far the plan has been that if you're a PG&E; customer, you're getting a new smart meter. End of story. Unless of course you raise a big enough stink to have the installations stalled -- and some communities are bringing up concerns over everything from faulty billing to health impacts from the wireless communication of the smart meters.
There hasn't been much of any scientific evidence showing that the meters are a health concern, but that's exactly the issue for many residents who want more studies to show whether or not there is indeed a healthrisk. The meters meet FCC standards, but the question is whether those standards are tough enough. For people who have serious questions, an ability to opt out is the next best option.
The bill, AB 37, will require the CPUC to provide an opt-out alternative for those who don't want a smart meter, which would then require utilities to come up with a wired alternative to the wireless smart meter. While it could be simply a way to appease those with worries, it could also be a big infrastructure snag for the smart grid, especially if the bill influences more like it in other states.
Novato Patch reports that "the CPUC has long maintained that the deployment of 10 million meters throughout California is part of a national smart grid that requires all consumers to be included and, therefore, has not allowed people the option of opting-out of the program. The CPUC also denied a petition to place a temporary moratorium on the deployment of the meters while these issues were examined."
The bill will go to the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee in spring and could move from there to a vote. Whether or not residents who never wanted a wireless smart meter, but had one installed anyway, could get a new wired smart meter installed instead is still unclear. Either way, the bill won't necessarily hold up smart meter installations, but will simply require more paperwork and more infrastructure work on the part of utilities trying to upgrade to smart meters. While the smart grid is a necessary strategy for energy efficiency across the nation, it seems only reasonable that any concerns brought up by residents who live with the smart meters be properly addressed. This bill will allow customers options while the health issue is thoroughly studied.
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