Public health concerns over SmartMeters have been largely dismissed by an independent report that found the wireless devices, which transmit consumers’ electricity usage data to utilities in real-time, are no more harmful than other common household electronic devices.
According to the 50-page report by the California Council on Science and Technology, “Health Impacts of Radio Frequency from Smart Meters,” when the meters are properly installed and maintained, SmartMeters “result in much smaller levels of radio frequency (RF) exposure than many existing common household electronic devices, particularly cell phones and microwave ovens.”
The news may come as a welcome relief to some electric providers, like California’s PG&E, that have met growing resistance to the installation of the meters. PG&E’s SmartMeters — not to be confused with “smart meters,” which is the generic term for the devices — have been criticized over health problems reportedly caused by the wireless signals that the meters use to transmit data.
The utility has encountered especially strong opposition to SmartMeters in the Bay Area, where residents and activists routinely question the safety of the meters and were largely skeptical of the conclusions drawn by the CCST report.
“People are really getting sick — we're getting all kinds of anecdotal reports about sleep problems, nausea, headaches and ringing in the ears,” said Sandi Maurer, co-founder of the EMF Safety Network and a Sebastopal resident, in an interview. “This report simply says that there's no proof. That's not reassuring.”
Smart Meter Health Concern Threatens National Rollout
Opposition to smart meters may be a problem for state utilities, but it’s also a problem for the federal government, which is encouraging a national rollout of the devices as part of an ambitious plan to upgrade the country’s electric grid and transform it into an energy-saving “smart grid” by 2030.
Under the government’s plan, which the U.S. Department of Energy developed under the George W. Bush administration and outlined in a 2003 report, “Grid 2030: A National Vision for Electricity’s Second 100 Years,” the nationwide smart grid will be a modern, integrated, and energy-efficient engineering achievement costing hundreds of billions of dollars and will function as an “electric superhighway to support our information superhighway.”
According the Energy Department, the smart grid will allow “electricity and information flowing together in real time, near-zero economic losses from outages and power quality disturbances, a wider array of customized energy choices, suppliers competing in open markets to provide the world’s best electric services, and all of this supported by a new energy infrastructure built on superconductivity, distributed intelligence and resources, clean power, and the hydrogen economy.”
In order for the government’s smart grid to function as it was envisioned, it would need to become a “fully automated power delivery network that monitors and controls every customer and node, ensuring a two-way flow of electricity and information between the power plant and the appliance, and all points in between.”
Such a system would require potentially hundreds of millions of smart meters to operate. However, as of August, only two million smart meters had been installed across the country.
Smart Grid Could Use Hard-Wired Smart Meter Alternatives
In addition to resistance from some consumers and consumer advocates, the rollout of smart meters in California is also getting pushback in political corners. Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-Marin, has introduced legislation that would allow consumers to opt out of having the devices installed at their homes. Huffman is also calling for the development of “hard-wired” smart meters.
Huffman’s position is consistent with conclusions in the CCST report, which suggested that smart meters don’t need to rely solely on wireless technology and that hard-wired versions of the devices could be developed as alternatives for consumers.
“Whether or not you believe there are health issues, utilities should give consumers complete and accurate information regarding RF emissions from smart meters, and customers should be allowed the alternative of having a hard-wired smart meter,” Huffman said in a statement.
“Study Finds No Evidence of Health Risks From SmartMeters,” San Jose Mercury News, Jan. 12, 2011.
California Council on Science and Technology, “Health Impacts of Radio Frequency From Smart Meters,” Jan. 2011.
The Edison Foundation Institute for Electric Efficiency website, “Utility-Scale Smart Meter Deployments, Plans & Proposals,” April 2010.
“Secretary Chu Announces Two Million Smart Grid Meters Installed Nationwide,” U.S. Department of Energy press release, Aug. 31, 2010.
U.S. Department of Energy Office of Electricity Delivery & Energy Reliability website, “Smart Grid.”
“Grid 2030: A National Vision for Electricity’s Second 100 Years,” U.S. Department of Energy, July 2003.