California rejects smart meters

Public protests utility's installations in 'green' state

US consumers are turning their backs on smart utility meters in one of the country’s most energy-conscious states, California, largely over concerns about privacy and RF emissions from wireless hardware. The protests are even reaching into the heart of Silicon Valley.

Last month, Marin County, a neighbour to San Francisco, and Santa Cruz County, which borders San Jose, both placed one-year moratoria on further installations by the local utility, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E). Their decisions brought the total number of county stops to 25.

"It's a way for us to tell PG&E that we want you to stop implementing this until the risks are better known, and it's a way to tell our citizens that we hear them," elected Marin County District 3 Supervisor Charles McGlashan told the local press.

Californian opposition is now beginning to go national, embarrassing the Obama administration as it looks to promote national smart meter installations to bolster the sclerotic national grid and reduce US energy consumption.

Washington had originally hoped that California’s reputation as an early-adopter of ‘green’ technologies would make it a convincing pathfinder location for the initiative.

Opposition to the meters is being organised by a loose alliance of civil liberties advocates, groups concerned about health risks and others who claim that the equipment is inaccurate. Several local Tea Party organisations, which often have a strong libertarian philosophy, have joined the fight, but it is getting backing from the left-wing too.

SmartMeters are really StupidMeters. Why? Because they overcharge you; broadcast your personal info and detailed energy-use habits; emit electromagnetic radiation that can cause cancer, damage your DNA, and harm wildlife; catch fire; and disable your shock prevention devices,” declares the umbrella protest site Stop Smart Meters. It is targeting meetings of supervisory boards in three more California counties this month.

PG&E has installed seven million microwave-based wireless meters in California so far, and published research aimed specifically at countering claims about RF radiation and billing inaccuracies. However, the company’s PR drive suffered a recent own goal with reports that it is developing equipment with more powerful wireless signals – SUNDS, for Subterranean Network Deployment System – to be used in buried city-centre energy infrastructure. Arrests of protesters also appear to have simply given the anti-meter campaigners more publicity and supporters.

PG&E says that it is looking at wired rather than wireless installations, but remains committed to the programme. However, that will not answer growing claims by Tea Party activists that the meters are ‘spying’ on utility customers.

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