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Smart meters are being installed across Vermont by Green Mountain Power and other electrical utilities, and many are still unaware of what they are and why they’ve been the subject of so much controversy.
At some point most of us received promotional material in the mail from GMP, complete with promises of more reliable electricity and energy savings, but there’s another side to “smart meters” that you deserve to know before one is put on your home.
Starting with the basics, smart meters are a new type of electric meter that are being installed as a result of $69 million in federal grants. Smart meters will have the ability to keep close track of energy usage and, in theory, the consumer can then use this information to save money.
In reality, smart meters don’t actually save electricity. Vermont Electric Coop, which began installing smart meters in 2005, has said that they haven’t seen any decrease in energy usage, despite this large-scale investment. Some states have decided against them; Connecticut’s attorney general advised against their installation after it was discovered that each meter cost over $400 and the costs took over 20 years to recover.
Instead of saving money, after receiving a smart meter, many customers have reported electric bills going up. The utilities dismiss this, attributing increases to a warmer summer, a colder winter, or changes in energy usage inside the home. This doesn’t explain why so many residents from British Columbia to Alabama have complained of bills shooting up 200 to 300 percent, from one month to the next.
In the Mad River Valley, as well as in most of Vermont, the utilities will be installing wireless smart meters, which emit levels of RF (radiofrequency) radiation that concern many independent scientists, who warn that long-term exposure can lead to serious health issues.
In California, where wireless meters have already been deployed, thousands of health complaints have been reported with symptoms including migraines, ringing in the ears, heart and circulatory issues, difficulty sleeping, depression and memory loss.
Recently the American Academy of Environmental Medicine released a position paper calling for immediate caution for wireless meter installations. The paper states, “More independent research is needed to assess the safety of smart meter technology” as “patients are reporting to physicians the development of symptoms and adverse health effects after smart meters are installed on their homes. Immediate action is necessary to protect the public’s health.”
Utilities downplay the RF levels emitted from wireless meters, some even going so far as to say they emit less radiation than the human body. This is factually misleading and prevents customers from understanding what the meters actually do.
Current advertising campaigns compare wireless meters to cell phones and other household devices, asserting that the meters emit much less radiation than what we are already exposed to on an everyday basis.
Independent expert Daniel Hirsh Ph.D., professor of nuclear policy at UCSC, examined the evidence and determined that it’s actually the other way around: wireless meters emit 50 times morewhole body RF exposure than a cell phone.
Another area of controversy is how often these smart meters emit radiation. The utilities claim that they only transmit every six hours for a few seconds at a time. While this is technically true that they only transmit data for such a small amount of time, what they fail to disclose is that the smart meters continue to emit pulsed radiation all day and all night.
Utilities repeatedly have claimed that the meters comply with FCC requirements But the FCC “guidelines” were adopted in 1996, based on research published prior to 1986. The research studies used continuous wave RF, not the kind of modern pulsed radiation that is emitted from smart meters.
Over the last 30 to 40 years, a large body of scientific literature has reported such effects as double strand DNA damage, increased cancer rates, thyroid disruption, lowered melatonin levels, which can lead to sleeping problems, leakage of the blood brain barrier, heart and circulatory problems and cognitive and neurological impairment.
In May 2011, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified all RF radiation as a Group 2B possible human carcinogen, the same category as lead paint, exhaust fumes and DDT.
Several independent investigators have measured radiation levels here in Vermont and elsewhere and found that smart meters emit levels of radiation that are thousands of times higher than background levels. Particularly concerning are residences with multiple meters or homes that are close together.
Wireless smart meters are reported to interfere with medical devices (i.e., pacemakers, insulin pumps), as well as household electrical appliances such home security systems, causing them to malfunction.
If all of this wasn’t enough, there are also privacy and security issues with smart meters. Many reports show that they capture very detailed information and specific electronic signatures of appliances throughout the home. A Department of Energy Privacy Report indicated that “an observer could discern the behavior of occupants in a home over a period of time, whether a home is occupied, how many people live in it, daily schedules, whether homes are equipped with alarm systems, medical equipment, or expensive electronic equipment.”
While the utilities assure us that they will protect all this information, in today’s world in which cyber attacks have compromised the data of many companies, and even the Department of Defense, I’m not convinced that Green Mountain Power is impenetrable. Wireless networks are notoriously insecure and even former CIA director James Woolsey warned that smart meters are a risk to the national electric grid.
The good news is that the Vermont Legislature and the Public Service Board have required utilities to allow customers who may share these concerns to “opt out” of the wireless smart meter installation programs, and to do so for free. We encourage you to inform yourself, and make your own “smart” meter decision.
Ray Pealer is a community health advocate from Calais, VT.