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Smart meters and cultural toxicity

When a cry such as "Crimes against humanity!" echoes in a regulatory chamber over the installation of interval meters, not only do you have an instructive incident for utilities to consider, you have a full-blown anthropological study on your hands.

I refer to the hearing on PG&E's opt-out options at the California Public Utilities Commission on Feb. 1, covered via the Web by my colleague Kate Rowland, resulting in her piece last week, "From Health Claims to Orwellian Accusations ..." That piece was preceded by a string of three columns by yours truly on the same topic, "PG&E Smart Meter Opt-out: Decision By Regulators," "California: Mob Rule On Analog Opt-out Solution?" and "California: A Future With ... Analog Meters."

In an age when the duly elected president of the United States is subjected to claims that he is not a citizen, when contenders for the presidential nomination of the opposing party claim to not "believe" in evolution, when conspiracy theorists suggest that our own military and intelligence organizations were "behind" 9/11, when the Federal Reserve Bank draws the ire of ... whoever those people are, you're on a slippery slope. And it's greased.

Enter interval meters, wireless or otherwise. Let's suppose that a utility has used a heavy hand to attempt to defeat an initiative to allow local choice over electricity and its delivery. Suppose that utility has decided to install millions of those meters in its territory, the same territory containing local governments it has attempted to run roughshod over. Further suppose that in significant pockets of that territory, indoor marijuana growing thrives, for profit and personal use. Suppose times are hard, times are changing, times are bewildering, even scary. Suppose you have a problem on your hands. That's PG&E and its northern California territory, standing before the CPUC. 

It's worth taking a long look at the cultural context for this situation because it reveals just how extreme some elements have become, with potential impacts on grid modernization. Just as we gain the means to modernize the electric grid through science, technology and enlightened, collective action, so we stumble, shriek and point fingers at one another, dividing and conquering ... ourselves. Does that sound like a strong nation with a vision for the future? Does that sound like an industry that can get its job done?

A recent article in The New York Times did an admirable job in painting the context for the power industry's piece of this unraveling tapestry.

The New York Times' headline said a lot: "Activists Fight Green Projects, Seeing U.N. Plot."

Unfortunately, the Times was behind the curve when it identified "activists with ties to the Tea Party" as the ones "railing against all sorts of local and state efforts to control sprawl and conserve energy." Memo to the Times: see smart meters, Marin and Mendocino counties, for the same sentiments spewing from the left, too. One protester in Virginia "identified smart meters, devices being installed by utility companies to collect information on energy use, as part of the conspiracy. 'The real job of smart meters is to spy on you and control you—when you can and cannot use electrical appliances,' she said."

One county planner said that protesters at what used to be  routine county planning meetings "say they want non-polluted air and clean water and everything we promote and support, but they also say it's a communist movement."

"I really don't understand what they want," the planner said.

This article conveniently hit the Web the same day I received an email with the subject line "ICLEI's Murder Meters and Spy Grid Turning Mr. Roger [sic] Neighborhood into Electronic Internment Camps." ICLEI stands for the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives and is said to be at the center of U.N. efforts to rob Americans of ... everything. There is a U.N. program dubbed "Agenda 21" that emphasizes sustainable development. Now it is the rallying cry of the xenophobic and the paranoid, who've taken to thwarting local initiatives to grow and develop intelligently.

The opening statement in the email read: "Smart meters is [sic] a grid designed to control and incarcerate the public. It is a project from the science of the Department of Defense overseen by MITRE the intelligence operation under former James Schlesinger located in McLean, Virginia."

How does that one grab you? Apart from the parallel universe in spelling, punctuation and sentence fragments, that is. Perhaps you'd like to visit this website for more, Refuse Smart Meter.

"Murder  meters and the Spy Grid were designed by agencies that are informally coordinated under David Boran (skull & bones). Radio waves directed as weapons via frequencies and spying with calculated two way communication devices. There are records on file originating from U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command ..." Etc., etc.

All of this would be laughable, except one conclusion reached by the Times—that projects, even discussions, of major public issues are being canceled due to the vociferousness of the tin-foil hat crowd.

"It sounds a little on the weird side, but we've found we ignore it at our own peril," said George Homewood, a vice president of the American Planning Association's chapter in Virginia, quoted by the Times.

Do I need to make any further points here? Or has the rejection of science and the mistrust of institutions—particularly those that are installing digital meters on people's homes—gone a bit too far? And do you suppose that such a movement might have an impact on your operations, capital investments and, say, your approach to your customers?

The correct answer: it already has. And it's gaining ground.

Phil Carson
Intelligent Utility Daily


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