The SCE and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. were approved by the California Public Utilities Commission to replace analog meters with wireless smart meters in 2006, and the SCE has been installing meters since 2009. The company is a little more than halfway to its goal of installing 5 million by 2012.
The Board of Supervisors voted to send a letter to the utilities commission requesting a free opt-out option for the county’s PG&E and SCE customers, but the county counsel Dennis Marshall says the board doesn’t have the authority to do more than that as it did with cell phone towers.
Jim Tobin, a San Francisco attorney, disagrees with Marshall and is representing a group of public entities, including Marin County and the cities of Fairfax and Ross, that oppose the smart meters.
“I don’t think the board has any legislative authority with respect to the smart meters,” Marshall said.
Nearly 40 counties and cities have filed petitions asking for moratoriums, which motivated the California Public Utilities Commission to ask for an opt-out proposal.
The one submitted in March has triple-digit fees attached, including a $135 to $170 up-front charge, a $14 to $20 monthly charge, and an “exit fee” to turn off or disable the radio on smart meters.
A flood of county citizens protested the smart meters Tuesday, citing health and safety concerns as well as privacy concerns. Many residents reported coming home to find meters installed without any notice and, after calling their utility company, were told they had no choice in the matter.
Loryn Hodosy of Montecito said her husband discovered a smart meter had been installed without his knowledge when he went to turn off the circuit breakers while cleaning their spa.
“First of all, they should have asked me, and second, they shouldn’t have sneaked it in,” she said.
Hodsoy told county supervisors that she is concerned about the smart meter being 3 feet from where she prepares food and 10 feet from where her children have breakfast and do homework everyday.
The frequencies emitted by the meters are also said to adversely affect the immune system, a big problem for Hodsoy, who has been living with systemic lupus erythematosus since college. She fears the smart meters could agitate her antibodies to attack her kidneys.
Many residents are most concerned with the potential health effects, particularly for those with pacemakers, heart issues, headaches or electro-magnetic sensitivity.
Inga Hofer, a German immigrant who moved to Solvang 13 years ago, gave tear-filled testimony to the board about how her husband began to suffer from debilitating headaches, unresponsiveness and the inability to walk after having a smart meter installed on their home.
“I didn’t know whom to turn to,” she said. “I know he will not be able to live in that house.”
After fighting with her provider to remove the smart meter, Hofer spoke with a commissioner from the California Public Utilities Commission who said the best short-term option was to insulate her house to block the electromagnetic waves. Hofer said she now has multiple layers of aluminum foil lining her living room walls.
The issue of unannounced visits onto private property from installers contracted by the utility companies also stirred opposition from residents.
“The public doesn’t want smart meters but they’re being shoved down their throat,” said Bryan Rosen of Concerned Citizens for Environmental Health. “This doesn’t sound very democratic.”
Several organizations submitted letters of opposition as well, urging the Board of Supervisors to pursue a free opt-out proposal for customer choices.
The radio frequency radiation conclusions by Sage Associates owner Cindy Sage, an environmental consultant, point to safety standard violations, she said. Sage originally supported an opt-out compromise but changed her mind after the World Health Organization suggested that additional research be done to investigate the impact of “possibly carcinogenic” electromagnetic fields.
Marleen Lockman, a building biologist from Ojai, studies how human health is affected by indoor phenomenon. She told the board that she observed a reading of a smart meter using a device used to measure household radiation from wireless routers, cell phones and microwave ovens.
“The readings are off the meters, and that is scary,” Lockman said.
Representatives of the Montecito Association and the Santa Barbara Chapter of Californians Against Smart Meters reiterated the need for giving consumers a choice to opt out at no cost.
Utility companies say they are installing smart meters so they can prevent large outages, check usage remotely and allow users to better monitor their energy usage.
Companies — and consumers — will be able to monitor usage in hourly increments, and there are incentives for customers to use less energy during peak times during the day.
“It has been shown that consumers can actually reduce their energy usage 4 to 12 percent by having this kind of control,” said Patricia Willmore, PG&E’s area manager for government relations.
Hodsoy called the utilities’ message of conservation and self-monitoring “a great marketing ploy” to distract consumers from the fact that it’s better for the companies’ bottom line.
PG&E will implement time-based rates for customers with smart meters in November. Different prices for electricity will be charged depending on the time of day. For example, on the hottest days, energy used between 2 and 6 p.m. will cost more.
Joshua Hart, director of Stop Smart Meters, said he was disappointed with the board’s decision to only send a letter to the CUPC instead of imposing a moratorium.
“I just don’t know anyone who listened to that testimony … without taking the strongest ordinance possible,” Hart said. “The people have spoken.”
After hearing PG&E’s representatives speak, Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr said she was skeptical of the claim that any wireless grid’s security is full-proof.
“If somebody really wanted to break in I suppose they could, but we haven’t really seen that,” a PG&E spokesman said.
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said he was surprised that the utilities have adopted for a fee system to discourage people from opting out instead of encouraging them to opt in for rebates on their electrical bill.
“I’m really flabbergasted when I see the ideas of exit fees and the opt-out fees,” he said. “I would think it would almost be the reverse from a business standpoint.”
PG&E representatives promoted the idea that consumers could take more control of their energy consumption into their own hands through the smart meter system.
“What this system has the ability to do it notify the customer before they reach the next most expensive tier,” a PG&E spokesman said.
Edison’s SmartConnect is projected to reduce green house emissions by 365,00 tons per year or the equivalent of taking 80,000 cars off the road every year, according to Ken Devore, director of Edison SmartConnect.
What You Can Do
» If a smart meter has not yet been installed at your residence and you want to be put on the delay list for PG&E, call 877.743.7378.
» If a smart meter has already been installed and you want it removed, a PG&E representative said there is no direct number to call, but its customer service line is 800.743.5000.
» Edison, which serves the Santa Barbara area, does not have an opt-out program and hasn’t been told to make one by the CPUC as PG&E has. Edison’s plan includes replacing all infrastructure to revamp the entire power grid. To talk to a representative about your account, call 800.655.4555.
— Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Noozhawk intern Daniel Langhorne can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.