Smart Meters: Dumb Idea

smart.meterLong-time OVEC member Hedda Haning originally submitted this column to the Sunday Gazette-Mail, which ran it as an op-ed on October 26, 2014. The information bears repeating, so we’re “putting it out there” today…

When I first heard of “smart meters” about two years ago, I was concerned so I checked in with our state Public Service Commission and was reassured: We don’t have any smart meters in West Virginia. Whew! What a relief.

The trouble is that has become ancient history. We are now on the verge. All of the electric utility companies that serve West Virginia have smart meters installed in their other state territories. For instance Ohio has four electric companies in the process of installing more than 500,000 smart meters so far this year.

And appliance companies are building all of their appliances — washing machines, dish washers, refrigerators, microwaves, etc., — to interact with the installed smart meters, so as to regulate each appliance’s timing and intensity of electric power use.

If you have already heard of smart meters, you know that they are advertised by the utilities as saving money by turning down electrical appliances automatically and strategically to diminish use of electricity at key times. I admit that sounds great. The trouble is, it is a lie, strictly an advertising ploy. Smart meters cost customers significantly more.

First, there is the cost of installation. That is understandable, although over $200 apiece seems a little much. And since they are not nearly as durable as analog meters, the re-installation is a repeated process. One of the losses West Virginia will suffer is that a lot of meter readers will lose their jobs. Perhaps that is unavoidable “progress.”

Smart meters have been used widely enough now, internationally as well as locally, to demonstrate that, truthfully, smart meters result in obviously higher utility bills. So far there is data from Europe (including the UK), Japan, New Zealand and Australia. Costs do not go down. Some have seen their bills double.

That would be bad enough, but there is more: In most locales, customers are forbidden from refusing the change from standard (much longer lasting) analog meters to smart meters. There have been arrests of home owners for blocking the smart meter installations. Those nasty resisting homeowners have been taken to court, charged court fees and left with police records to punish their resistance.

There is also the very significant risk of fire. Most homes don’t burn, but it is risk enough to be scary.

And there is a privacy risk. Utility companies can record usage in an ongoing way, and thus are able to determine amongst other things whether or not you are at home, and what your activities are. Hackers can get and possibly use that data to burglarize your home at just the right time. And, yes, the companies have reported their findings to official agencies such as the police.

Additionally, and very importantly, smart meters transmit signals to appliances and to the utility companies using very high frequency electric power (microwave radiation) that is hazardous to your health. It is ongoing on a second by second basis to both the appliances and to the utility. The CDC is aware of the high-frequency risk to human health, and has recently expressed concern, although no action was taken.

Some people are seriously medically sensitive to that microwave radiation. Even if you are not, there is no way you would stick your head in your microwave oven. But your smart meter will be sending that kind of radiation around inside of your house constantly, and if you are close enough, throughout your neighborhood. It all adds up.

This probably sounds like a hoot of a story. The big problem is it is real. Pay attention: Public Citizen and The Wall Street Journal have. At 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 7, we (screened) Take Back Your Power, an award winning documentary about smart meters, at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 520 Kanawha Boulevard West in Charleston.

Haning is a UU member and a retired physician. 

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