The panel said that smart meters, or meters that can record the electricity a household uses by the second, are replacing old electric meters without permission at the user’s cost. Southern California Edison has said it plans to install the smart meters throughout the area by 2012 or sooner.
According to event organizers, the SCE had agreed to send a representative to the forum, but that the company pulled out at the last minute.
The forum, organized by the Santa Barbara Tea Party and which drew in more than 300 people, featured Supervisor Anthony Farrrington, D-Lake County, Dr. Mark Toney of TURN, Tyson Slocum of Public Citizen; Cindy Sage of Sage Associates, author Orlean Koehle and Joshua Hart of Stop Smart Meters.
The panel discussed issues ranging from the effects of smart meter installations on constitutional rights, health, privacy, national security and the environment. Much of the panelists’ discussion revolved around the implementation and installation of the smart meters without asking for consent.
“The root of the problem is that the utility companies never initiated a public consultation,” Hart said. “Utility companies are proposing increased rates of $7 billion, and the public was never consulted.”
Slocum said there are some families who would benefit from the ability for the smart meters to communicate with smart appliances in order to increase energy efficiency, but people shouldn’t be forced to adopt this technology.
“Some families would like a smart meter and they should be able to have one, but forcing that is a dumb policy and only benefits utility companies,” he said.
Koehle said the utility companies claim they are following federal law by mandating these installations, but when she consulted a lawyer, she found that was not the case.
“Upon reading the bill, it does not mandate utility companies to install smart meters in homes; they are only to offer them and install them upon customer request,” Koehle said as she read from the lawyer’s response.
Slocum said that Maryland reviewed a similar proposal from utility companies last year and found that smart meters were not cost-effective, and that it didn’t make sense to force people to have the meters installed.
The installations also pose health threats, especially for those who are “electrosensitive,” disabled or elderly, according to the panelists.
The smart meters and antennas communicate with radio frequencies that create “dirty electricity,” which emit carcinogens and neurotoxins, Sage said.
“A woman called in who said she bought a house in Half Moon Bay where they installed a smart meter in her house,” Hart said. “She couldn’t sleep in her home, she had hot flashes and ringing in ears throughout the night, and resorted to sleeping in a car in the church parking lot.”
Toney discussed time-based pricing that would charge higher rates during the daytime and the hottest days of the year.
“I call it critical peak pricing,” he said. “During the 10 hottest days of year, they want to charge a tenfold increase on those days. Talk about a health threat.”
Koehle said the government would have too much control of people’s lives by shutting off power to certain appliances during peak usage times.
“There’s a concern of remote shut-offs,” Toney said. “When PG&E started putting in smart meters, they became trigger happy when it came to shut-offs.”
Koehle noted a case in Switzerland in which a person with a smart meter had the washing machine turned off at 3 p.m. and came back on at 8 p.m.
Hart argued that the constant stream of data leaves people’s personal information exposed.
“When data is relayed every four seconds, this is valuable information for corporations and marketers,” he said.
Farrington noted that there was no environmental review when it came to the deployment of 15 million meters.
“It’s a new utility communication and infrastructure, but there was zero dollars being spent of environmental review — that’s unconscionable,” Farrington said, adding that it’s an issue that transcends party lines.
Above all, Hart said, the public needs to be informed of the government’s major investments.
“We demand the right to be informed by our country’s major investments, our right to health and privacy and safety, and we want a moratorium on smart meter installations.”