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Smart meters = tip of the iceberg

In the high desert in northwestern Colorado, bentonite clay abounds. A soaking rain means trouble. When you walk on wet bentonite, it builds up on the sole of your shoe until it's nearly impossible to walk. And roads become "impassable."

I mention this factoid to illustrate what it's like these days when you write about interval or "smart" meters. It's akin, in so many words, to "stepping in it." First, it's assumed that most interval meters are sending and receiving data wirelessly. (A fair assumption.) Second, for what appears to be an increasing number of people and "organizations" (quotation marks here because it's impossible to tell the difference between an individual and an "organization" on the Web), that means that the nation's power utilities have become merchants of death.

I'm not sure whether that line is likely to elicit a wry smile or a rueful smile. In either case, keep smiling, as you may need to scrape some, uh, bentonite clay off your shoes.

Yesterday I wrote about the digital meter opt-out option in Vermont, in "Vermont and the Opt-Out Provision."

We received numerous posts to the article forum, from advice to utilities on articulating the meter value proposition to extolling the wisdom of Vermont's opt-out option to objections to the cost of meters and their perceived low value to the consumer. Several folks wrote privately; one to offer a paper entitled "No Health Threat from Smart Meters" and two to offer explanations for why interval meters indeed threaten us all.

In "No Health Threat from Smart Meters," which appeared in the Fourth Quarter 2010 issue of UTC Journal (Utilities Telecom Council), author Klaus Bender, director of standards and engineering at UTC, succinctly describes the following topics in 8 pages:

  • Why interval meters on modern grids
  • The federal role in evaluating the safety of RF devices
  • Federal Communication Commission mandates on RF exposure and its impact on humans
  • The impact of RF energy on humans
  • Meter reading system configurations

Bender told me yesterday that a specific utility member of UTC asked for guidance in addressing the backlash on interval meters and their alleged impacts on human health. The paper was generalized to be useful to all utilities.

In the paper, Bender concluded: "So when confronted with complaints that say smart meters cause a variety of health effects, ask the complainant to produce the science to support the claim. The conversation should end shortly thereafter."

Ah, an engineer's solution—so logical. If only that were true! Actually, that's the beginning of the conversation. First, the objectors will say that the science on this topic is just beginning to escape the clutches of industry influence and that fledgling, peer-reviewed science now documents that low-level, non-ionizing RF energy can mix-and-match your DNA, is slowly baking all of us to premature deaths and that electrosensitivity is real and that forcing "smart meters" on us all is an unconscionable act that causes barbaric suffering.

The more rational folks in the anti-meter movement—and make no mistake, this is a movement to be taken seriously—are also campaigning for cell phone warnings. But for the most part, the movement is focused only on interval meters.

I'll just say that if those opposed to interval meters limit their focus to those devices alone, that undercuts their argument. (At first I wrote that that argument is "conveniently dishonest and morally bankrupt," but I'll let you decide whether gentle or not-so-gentle is appropriate here.) If the opponents of low-level, non-ionizing, low-frequency RF emitted by interval meters really believe that that's harmful, then they should be opposed to the use of radios in any setting. The argument that "cell phones are voluntary" and meters are involuntary doesn't wash. Radio frequencies are everywhere. Even if you rid yourself of cell phones, microwave ovens, Wi-Fi routers and the like, your neighborhood and every public place including the backcountry is awash in what opponents like to call "electrosmog."

It's disingenuous to argue that meters are hazardous and not take the fight all the way. So, if wireless meters go, so do radios, TVs, cell phones, laptops, airplanes and, by extension, national defense and modern commerce. It's that simple. And we haven't begun to discuss data privacy and interval meters.  

When one opponent of wireless interval meters said that hundreds of complainants can't be wrong, that there must be something about interval meters causing symptoms due to the mere numbers of complaints, I could only cite the history of popular folly, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, by Charles Mackay, published in 1841. And I tried to keep smiling.

Here's a smattering of websites dedicated to stopping smart meters for a variety of reasons. I'll say this: these folks are way better organized than the power industry, they are creating converts every day and they're not going to stop with a puny opt-out option.

The People's Initiative

American Association for Smart Meter Safety

Stop Smart Meters

Ban Smart Meters

Smart Meters

Center for Electrosmog Prevention

Phil Carson
Intelligent Utility Daily




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