Residents of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties attending a public hearing Friday afternoon expressed their outrage over smart meter installations and Southern California Edison’s fees for the opt-out program.
Administrative law judge Amy Yip Kikugawa and a representative from the California Public Utilities Commission listened to 2½ hours of concerns and complaints from Edison customers, most of whom have opted out of having a new, wireless SmartConnect meter installed.
By keeping an analog meter, SCE customers are required to pay an initial $75 fee followed by $10 monthly, which people called “highway robbery” and “extortion,” among other things.
There was no action taken at the hearing, but Kikugawa said the transcripts will be sent to all five CPUC commissioners, since none was present for Friday’s hearing. It was just Kikugawa and Carol Brown, a representative for CPUC president Michael Peevey, in the Hearing Room of the Santa Barbara County Administration Building in Santa Barbara.
Customer concerns are based on the charge for the opt-out program, health and privacy concerns. Beyond that, people are furious that the changeover to smart meters was even approved — and that the CPUC has been unresponsive to their concerns.
Ojai resident Sue Williamson asked why the CPUC wasn’t present at the hearing, since commissioners have the power to change this program and address the concerns.
“Karma is going to bite you in the butt,” she said.
Santa Barbara County 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal asked the CPUC to create an affordable opt-out option for customers, while everyone else requested that the charges be eliminated entirely.
“It’s very clear that the overwhelming majority in this room believe they should not have to pay anybody for something they don’t want,” said attorney and former Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara.
Senate Bill 17, which created the program allowing smart meters, requires cyber security and implementation that doesn’t compromise consumer or worker safety, and Edison’s program doesn’t accomplish those things, Nava said.
The fees are a “ridiculous, absurd amount of money,” Oxnard resident George Miller said.
Diane Hawkins of the Ventura County Libertarian Party said Edison’s electricity monopoly means customers can’t avoid the opt-out options. Having the opt-out is a “false choice,” she she.
“It’s like asking whether you want your right ear cut off or your left ear cut off,” Hawkins said.
More people would opt out of having new meters installed but simply can’t afford to, many said Friday.
Health concerns dominate the reasons these customers are against the new meters, and many say they’ve experienced headaches, heart palpitations or electrical interference from the ones installed at their homes or neighbors’ homes.
Others are worried about the potential impacts of the technology’s electromagnetic output.
“I am not willing to use my family as a science experiment,” one woman said.
Some people said they are extra-sensitive to wireless technology and electromagnetic fields, and have been worse since the smart meters came around. Even if they opt-out, some said, their neighbors may not, so the technology is still very close to their homes.
Residents of condominium and apartment complexes have the same issue, but multiplied. Most meters for these complexes are installed in banks next to each other, so one unit has multiple meters on the wall.
Homeowners expressed privacy concerns as well, since the meters make it clear when someone is home — or at least when and how much power is being used.
Gary Vanderman of Goleta worried about the remote turn on/shut off power with the new meters, too. Whether purposefully, accidentally or through some kind of software glitch, “anytime, anywhere, your power can be shut off,” he said.
He said he has opted out as a protection against that.
Some told stories about installers coming onto private property without permission, even when the person has already opted out.
Corex, which installs meters for SCE, was called a lot of bad names Friday, and residents complained that some meters were installed even at properties registered for the opt-out program.
Once installed, it’s been impossible to get the meters removed, some said.
One man, who lives in an apartment, said he wouldn’t think twice if someone installed one on his property without permission.
“I would smash every single f****ing one of them,” he said.