Should we be concerned and stop smart meter installation?
Today welcome my friend and guest-poster, Bob, who my looooong-time readers will remember as “Bob in Green Suburbia”. He wrote a couple posts for me years ago: one was his guest interview here and the other was this one on Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb Safety Concerns. Visit Bob's blog, where he muses about all sorts of things and makes me laugh: Brainstem Bob's Guide to Better Living. And if you need a good copywriter, keep him in mind. 🙂
Today I’d like to take a look at ‘smart meters,’ which are being installed on homes around the country. Our area recently started switching over to smart electrical meters, and our community (Kelly and I are neighbors) has also announced plans to convert our municipal water meters over to smart meter technology. Despite their many advantages of older analog meters (dumb meters?), many people have issues with this new technology, so Kelly has asked me to look into the new smart water meters in an attempt to determine how much of a risk they may pose. (Read Kelly's original post on this issue here: Why you should say NO to smart meters, even if it costs you, so you can guess where she stands.)
Before we take a look at why some aren’t happy with their new smart meters, let’s take a quick look at why they exist in the first place.
Smart Meters 101
The switchover to smart meters is taking place in an effort to modernize the power grid and let the utilities (and their consumers) take control over their energy usage. Smart meters monitor a home’s energy usage constantly, and transmit that data to the energy company. Unlike older analog meters, smart meters transmit their data to the utility companies wirelessly, eliminating the need for human meter readers; it’s all automatic. Smart metering also eliminates ‘estimated usage’ billing, where the utility basically guesses what a home’s energy usage should be based on averages rather than actually reading the meter, and they bill for that (often incorrect) estimated amount. Smart metering allows utilities to better predict energy usage patterns; customers can also access their energy usage data online. The idea is to provide better billing accuracy and help everyone use and manage energy more efficiently. So far, so good. Saving energy is good. Having accurate energy bills is good, too.
So what’s the problem?
Smart meters transmit their data to utilities wirelessly using radio waves, which are a form of electromagnetic radiation. While the amount of radiation emitted by smart meters is low, less than a cell phone, there are people who report experiencing health issues as a direct result of these new smart meters. Some of their symptoms include tinnitus (ringing of the ears), insomnia, heart palpitations, and hormone disorders.
Smart electrical meters do emit small amounts of radiation in their usage, but how much? Are our new smart water meters going to have the same features as the gas and electric meters? Will the water data they gather be used for anything other than simple billing? Will they transmit their data using the same radio frequency technology that some consider to be harmful to their health? Will customers be able to opt-out? The evidence doesn’t look encouraging.
More efficient water usage and lead-free metering are good things, but is the cost too high?
Looking at the information provided by my town, the new smart water meter system they’ll be using is R450 Fixed Network AMI meter reading technology from Neptune Technology Group. According to Neptune, the R450 uses FCC Licensed 450 MHz Band for secure two-way communications to send water-usage data from homes to the utility. These levels are comparable to those used in electrical utility smart meters.
This is where some see an issue. According to Neptune, the R450 operates in the 450 MHz to 470 MHz band. They state that “The Food and Drug Administration and the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health have classified radiation emitted by devices operating at these RF frequencies as “non-ionizing.” Other types of non-ionizing radiation devices include televisions, radios, remote controls, and other devices that use visible and infrared light. The meters are certified by the FCC, and have an effective radiated output power of 1 watt or less. Transmissions from the meter are typically 100 ms (milliseconds) or less, up to four times per day. According to Neptune’s literature, “In comparison, portable transmitters used by consumers typically operate for much longer periods of time and can have higher output power.” As far as exposure risks associated with the R450 meter, the general population exposure limit set by the FCC for the frequency range used by the R450 and other devices like cordless phones and baby monitors is 0.6 milliwatts per centimeter squared.
With the R450 meter device, which is transmitting less than one second per day and for 100 milliseconds or less at a time, the exposure to radio frequency energy at a distance of 8 inches from the meter is 0.2 milliwatts per centimeter squared, or less than one-third the exposure limit set by the FCC.
So should we be worried about these new smart water meters?
The documentation says probably not. But, that doesn’t mean the municipalities implementing them should simply ignore the concerns of their customers. Are they safer than the gas or electric smart meters? Again, it depends on your definition of ‘safe.’ ALL smart meters must operate within the limits established by the FCC; some consider that perfectly safe, but many consider ANY radiation exposure to be a risk. And they see smart meter radiation as a perfectly avoidable risk.
Are smart meters 100% good, or 100% bad, for humans or the environment?
The truth is neither. There’s a lot of documentation out there about negative effects being experienced by those with smart meters, but most of it is anecdotal. On the other hand, there are also plenty of reports saying that the radiation levels experienced with these devices is not harmful. The government, in the form of the FCC, says that devices operating within their tested safe limits are in fact safe.
That being said, there are simply too many people distrustful of any assurances of safety from governmental agencies to ignore their wishes to not switch meters.
To me, the smart meter debate boils down to public relations. We are customers of the utilities; isn’t the customer always supposed to be right? If a customer claims that smart meters will make them sick, or invade their privacy, let them opt out. Right now, opting out is a major pain, if it’s an option at all. Our utilities charge a hefty service fee to opt out of smart meters, then a monthly fee of around $10 to keep the old meter.
Our city says opting out of the smart water meters won’t be an option at all.
When it comes to personal exposure to RF radiation, I have a choice in how and when I expose myself to modern technology and any potential risks they pose. I can turn off the computer, the cell phone, and the wi-fi. But right now, it’s very difficult if not impossible to stick with the tested, old-fashioned analog meters that measure my home’s energy use. And that fact is turning what should be a simple consumer choice into what some consider to be a major battle of David vs. Goliath proportions.
So what should be done about this smart meter dilemma? How to handle those worries over the radiation exposure? Personally, I’m not as concerned about the potential harm of radio frequency radiation from these smart meters as others are, including Kelly and many of her readers.
But… I can’t argue with anybody who IS more concerned about the RF radiation than I am, or tell them they’re not sick, and I think it’s foolish for a company to ignore their customers’ concerns. If somebody is claiming that their smart meters are making them sick, or damaging their electrical devices, even if studies don’t indicate these to be areas of concern, they must be listened to. There are too many consumers who are wary of reassurances made by governmental agencies, and simply don’t want to be guinea pigs in this great high-tech radiation experiment, and feel powerless against the corporate utilities they feel are forcing them to adopt smart meter technology against their wishes. Their claims of sickness from exposure should be studied further, not ignored.
From a public relations point of view, allowing the customer to choose is the only way to go. Forcing the change is causing huge waves of protest amongst those who would probably have happily just said ‘no thank you’ to the new meters and carried on with their lives. I’m not a corporation, but if I was, I’d go out of my way to avoid conflict and unhappiness amongst any of my customers.
Whether it’s concerns over radiation, or privacy, or any other reason, smart meters are simply not wanted by a percentage of customers. Giving them the right to opt-out, without being assessed extra fees, makes the problem go away. As I’ve said, I’m not particularly concerned over smart meter technology, but many are.
What if they’re right?
Opting out gives them peace of mind, and allows the smart meter technology to be examined over a longer period of time, by more impartial groups, to determine whether or not they pose risks that to this point have gone undetected by tests and studies.
Kelly again here. Thanks for delving into this more for us Bob!! It's good to hear from all sides. As you said, though, I am still concerned about it and this is why: I don’t believe the government knows what they’re doing, they’ve proven this to us MANY times over the years!!! So I’m not willing to risk it and find out later that it really was dangerous. As long as opting out IS an option, Kent and I are okay with paying extra for that right. I am NOT happy about the fact that the City isn’t going to give us this option for the new water meters!
- Have you seen this smart meter guard for those who are sensitive to smart meter radiation?
- Why you should say NO to smart meters, even if it costs you
- Bob's guest interview
- Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb Safety Concerns
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