(1) What is a “smart” electric meter? This is a digital surveillance device that plugs into your existing electric meter socket. In the U.S. it most commonly uses a radio transmitter to send hourly, or more frequent information, to the utility, though it can communicate in other ways. It also commonly includes a second radio transmitter to communicate with all the major appliances in a home or business. It does measure your electric consumption for billing purposes, as meters have always done, but it does many other things, which are in no way needed for the utility to bill you for your electric use. These other things include invading your privacy, putting you at risk for sudden and total loss of power and possibly causing some members of your household to become ill. As such, it is way outside the definition of “meter” as that term has been defined through prior law and regulations. It is not something your utility has an automatic right to impose on you under the guise that it is merely “upgrading your meter”. Anyone who tells you the utility has some right to install this over your objections is not being honest with you. For more information on what a smart meter is and does, click here.
What about ‘digital’ meters that don’t contain radio transmitters? Utilities, in responding to a medical complaint, sometimes offer to install a “non transmitting digital meter” such as the Centron meter by Itron. Don’t be fooled. There is a reason the utility is offering you this instead of the safe and time tested analog meter. These digital meters are just another kind of ‘smart meter’. They can make you sick too because of the ‘switched mode power supply’ they contain, and they also invade your privacy. The only difference is your data may be downloaded monthly by a meter reader using the optical port on the face of the meter.
(2) Are there other kinds of “smart” meters? Yes. Your gas company and your water utility may also be “upgrading your meter”. Those would also be, in most cases, radio transmitting surveillance devices and you have a right to refuse those also since they perform functions not needed for billing purposes, invade your privacy for sure, and may also cause illness in your household. (An exception would be a type of automatic meter reading system used by some municipalities, and perhaps in the future by some gas utilities, which only transmits a reading once per month and only in response to an interrogation signal from a utility vehicle passing down the street.)
(3) Will a “smart meter” save me money? No. Not in itself. In the first place the new meters are going to cost you money because they are expensive to manufacture and install and you will be paying all those costs, partly as a taxpayer and partly through your monthly electric bill. Any savings would depend on future “time of use rates” offered by your utility and on your willingness to radically change your own consumption habits to take advantage of such rates.
It was the judgment of the Attorney General of Connecticut that a pilot program there did not show cost savings sufficient to justify the costs of the program. Click here for that report. In our own state a pilot program involving Harsen’s Island and a downriver community was done but the MPSC made a decision to go forward with mass deployment without obtaining any cost results from the pilot program – and this over the objections of our then Attorney General Mike Cox.
In addition it has been the experience of many people who have the new meters that their bills have become dramatically higher immediately after installation of a “smart meter”. It is not entirely clear why this should be – unless the new meters are being used to mask a back door rate increase. For details on this see stories of people who have complained of the increased costs elsewhere on this site by clicking here.
It is worth noting that if the utility implements “time of use rates” you will have no way to complain that you were overcharged because you will not be able to read the detailed usage data from the meter yourself. You will have to depend absolutely on the honesty of the utility.
(4) Are “smart meters” good for the environment? No. In and of themselves they do not save any electricity, reduce our nation’s carbon emissions, or reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil. Any such alleged benefits can only come about if you are willing to reduce your overall use of electricity – which you could choose to do whether you have a smart meter or not. What the new meters will do, in and of themselves, is add greatly to the “electromagnetic smog” which permeates our living and work spaces and is harmful to at least some of us.
(5) How can a “smart meter” invade my privacy? (a) These meters are designed to measure and store your electrical usage broken down into very small intervals, recording, in some cases, separately what you used each and every minute of the day. That information is then transmitted to the utility by radio waves or other means, and reveals much more information about your activities than you might think. The utility may then sell that information to marketing companies or others, or give it to government agencies and hackers may intercept that data. For a detailed discussion of what is revealed by such data see the article elsewhere on this site by clicking here.
(b) But that is only the beginning of the privacy intrusion. The utility is planning for you to buy a new generation of “smart appliances” which will contain radio transmitting chips and will be capable of two way communication with your new “smart meter”. When this happens the utility will know precisely which appliances you are using at each and every moment of the day, and may also acquire the ability to turn some of your appliances off at certain times of the day.
(6) How can a “smart meter” make me sick? The type of radiation given off by these new meters is what is called “non-ionizing” radiation. As such it was long thought to be less dangerous than the kind involved in x-rays, for example, which is called “ionizing radiation”. Ionizing radiation can break DNA bonds and thereby cause genetic damage or cancer.
For a long time it was believed that non-ionizing radiation was only a danger if it was intense enough to cause heating of the skin. The standard used by the FCC to this day is based on that obsolete theory and was developed to keep industrial workers safe from short term acute exposures. That standard was never developed to establish what would be safe in a situation of 24/7/360 exposure of vulnerable people in a home situation.
Recent research indicates that non-ionizing radiation is indeed dangerous and at intensity levels far lower than what the FCC had thought acceptable. Details on this research by credible scientists may be found elsewhere on this web site by clicking here.
The utilities hang their hat on the FCC standard alone, ignoring all other evidence. What they are really saying is that their meters are “legal under FCC standards”, not that they even have a good faith belief that the meters are safe and will cause no harm.
(7) What is it about a “smart meter” that can cause this damage? The typical smart meter will contain 3 sources of electromagnetic radiation. (a) First it has a transmitter/receiver operating at a frequency of 900 Mhz which is designed to transmit your private information to your neighbor’s meter, if it is a “mesh network”, and then to his neighbor’s meter and so on. (b) Next it has a transmitter/receiver operating at a frequency of 2.4 Ghz which is designed for two way communication between your smart meter and your smart appliances. (c) Then it has something called a “switched mode power supply” which emits additional radio waves and puts “dirty electricity” on all the wiring inside your home. (d) Finally, if you are unfortunate enough to have what is called a “collector meter” (in a mesh network) there will be a third transmitter/receiver operating at cell phone frequency which is designed to transmit the private information of everyone in the neighborhood up to a cell phone type receiver mounted on a pole.
(8) What is a “mesh network”? Utilities often daisy chain all the smart meters in a neighborhood. There are exceptions to this. We understand that Consumers Energy, on the west side of the state, does not plan to use this approach and we commend them for that decision. However DTE is using the system.
In a “mesh network” the meter on each home transmits to the meter on the next home and so forth, until the information reaches a “collector meter” whose job it is to send that information up to a cell phone receiver on a pole. The information is usually sent by way of very short high intensity pulses. Multiple paths through the neighborhood are possible so that if the meter on one house fails the information will automatically be re-routed via a different house. Such networks are said to be “self healing” because of this redundancy. The consequence of all this is that there may be hundreds of times more traffic flowing through your meter than just the data regarding your own usage. This will mean that you are being exposed to hundreds of times as many of these high intensity pulses as would have been necessary to transmit just your own data.
It is worth noting that when a utility company says your meter is only transmitting 15 minutes a day, they are being less than forthcoming. What they are not telling you is that the 15 minutes is arrived at by adding up thousands of those high intensity pulses which are happening 24/7. There is never a time when you are not being subjected to them. The other thing the utilities are not telling you is that they were only counting the pulses originating from your own meter, and NOT counting the much greater number of pulses your meter must relay for your neighbors in the network.
(9) Is it true that a cell phone emits 100 times greater radiation than a “smart meter”? NO. This is extremely misleading. First it ignores the fact that you are probably on your cell phone for no more than an hour a day. Then it ignores the fact that the smart meter radiation consists of very high energy pulses only microseconds in duration – known by experts to be much more damaging to the human nervous system than the type of radiation emitted by cell phones or WiFi networks. When they tell you the energy level from the meter is less than that of a cell phone, what they are really doing is not looking at the peak energy of each pulse but averaging the energy of pulses over an interval of several minutes. Then they ignore the fact that people have a CHOICE about whether to use a cell phone (or how much), and whether or not to have a WiFi network in their home. Electro-sensitive individuals tend to opt-out of both of these technologies and should have a right to opt out of any similar technology. Further information on this issue of radiation strength may be found in the Hirsch report elsewhere on this site by clicking here.
(10) Can a “smart meter” start a fire? There is substantial evidence that it can, in some minority of cases. The new meters are not approved by Underwriters Laboratories as is required by the National Electrical Code. There have been a number of such incidents in California where these devices have been in use for 3 years or more. Some of the incidents may have been caused by the utilities rush to deploy and by improperly trained installers who didn’t get the new meter seated properly in the meter socket. In other cases there was evidence that the new meter was not compatible with older house wiring. In some cases a meter would catch on fire immediately after install. The power company would then disconnect all power to the house and inform the homeowner to undertake expensive rewiring at his or her own expense before power would be turned back on.
(11) Can a “smart meter” put me at risk of a sudden and total loss of power? Yes. This could come about as a result of hacker’s activities, or it could come about because the utility’s billing system made a mistake. In the past if you were overdue on a bill you usually got reasonable notice of any proposed disconnect of your power. You would have a chance to object if loss of power would endanger a vulnerable person attached to a medical device requiring electric power. You would be given an opportunity to pay the overdue bill in time to avoid a disconnect. We are starting to hear reports of people having their power turned off for no reason at all, and with no advanced notice.
(12) Can “smart meters” put our entire nation at risk to a massive power outage? YES. The way the smart grid is being implemented we will all be vulnerable to hackers or terrorists in ways we never were with our old “dumb” grid.
(13) Can a “smart meter” cause other problems? Yes. There is evidence that they may, in some cases, interfere with heart pacemakers or other sensitive medical devices. This is because of the “dirty electricity” that is caused by the switched mode power supply in the new meter – which travels throughout the home’s wiring.
(14) If my utility offers me one of the new style digital meters with the “radio transmitter turned off”, should I accept that? We think not for three reasons. (a) All such meters are remotely programmable and so the utility could remotely turn on the transmitter at any time without your knowledge. (b) Such a meter still has a functioning switched mode power supply which can still cause illness and interfere with medical devices in the home, and (c) it is not clear that your privacy will be protected by such a device since it still stores your usage in small time intervals, and the utility may have or develop an alternate way to access that data.
We think you should insist on keeping your old analog meter if you still have it, or demand its return if you already have a “smart meter”. If your utility will not re-install an analog meter we think you every right in the world to resort to self-help to safeguard your home, your privacy and the health of your family. For more on what you can do to protect your family, click here.
(15) Why are the utilities rushing to install? First because they have been bribed by a 3.5 billion dollar “stimulus” grant to do this. Second because state regulatory bodies have assured them in advance that any costs not covered by the federal grant they will be able to pass along to their customers. The utilities also benefit by eliminating the jobs of meter readers and by ability to pinpoint outages more accurately. In the not so distant future they expect to benefit by turning off people’s appliances rather than building new power plants to meet the peak demands.
(16) Why is the United States government pushing this? Officially because of a “green agenda” and a desire to promote this country’s independence from mid east oil, as set forth in the “Energy Independence Act of 2007”. As we have shown, neither of these goals are well served by the “smart” meters. We think the real reason our government is pushing the new meters is because of a desire to tighten monitoring and controls over the American people in furtherance of something called “Agenda 21”.
We see the same tightening of controls going on in all the industrialized countries. Agenda 21 is an environmental agenda for the 21st century that puts preservation of the earth’s bio diversity way ahead of any respect for the rights of human beings. And the drive to implement this agenda is relentless and it matters little, it seems, which party we vote for or whether we call ourselves “liberals” or “conservatives..”