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States Begin Increasingly to Let People Reject Smart Meters Amid Health and Privacy Fears

| February 13, 2016

smart meters health safety

Handling uncertainty. (pgegreenenergy)

Shortly after Joe Davidson moved into his Cincinnati apartment, he noticed his joints were achy and he wasn’t sleeping well. Then he needed two root canals.

Davidson is among a small but outspoken group of people who say the radio frequencies coming from so-called smart meters installed in their homes are making them sick. The wireless devices — designed to measure gas and electricity consumption and help consumers save money — have other critics, such as privacy advocates who argue they could violate customers’ privacy and consumer advocates who complain they could lead to higher utility bills.

Driven by these concerns, legislators in several states have moved to give consumers options when it comes to installing smart meters in their homes.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 15 states allow customers to opt out of smart meter installation, although many–among them Florida, where FPL charges a $13-1-month fee–permit utility companies to impose a fee on customers who don’t want the meters.

This year, lawmakers in Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio, Pennsylvania andTexas are expected to consider bills that would allow consumers to keep their existing analog meters; require customers to opt in to smart meter programs; or allow them to refuse the devices, sometimes at no cost.

Smart meters measure the consumption of energy as customers use it and submit that information to utility companies, eliminating the need to estimate bills and to visit homes and businesses to read meters.

The meters also allow consumers to track their own energy use. And energy industry representatives say the devices make it easier to pinpoint and respond to power outages, and could lead to more accurate pricing that reflects how gas and electricity costs fluctuate throughout the day.

The meters are touted as a way to cut energy use and save customers money by allowing better monitoring of consumption so utilities can adjust production and consumers can change their habits.

Buoyed by $200 million in federal funding in 2009, utilities had installed nearly52 million smart meters by 2013, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Eighty-nine percent of those were installed in homes.

But opponents say the meters have been forced upon consumers who don’t want the digital devices and the fees many utility companies charge those customers are unjust.

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“There’s no reason to charge someone for something they don’t want,” said Del. Glen Glass, a Republican from Maryland who plans to introduce legislation that would prevent utility companies from charging extra to customers who refuse smart meters.

Maryland residents who reject smart meters pay a $75 one-time fee and an additional $5.50 each month. But few people actually choose to opt out of smart meters, said Marc Harnish, an analyst with the EIA.

Expectation of Privacy

Because smart meters convey information over wireless networks, some opponents worry the data they transmit could be stolen and used by criminals to target individual homes. For example, by looking at when power is being used, a thief could determine when a house is empty, said Bradley Shear, a Maryland-based privacy lawyer.

“I don’t see these issues going away. In fact I see them becoming more complex as more utility companies install these technologies,” said Shear, who also worries that hackers could steal customers’ personal and financial information.

Florida allows an opt-out, but at a steep fee of $13 a month.

But advocates for smart meters — such as the nonprofit Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative, which is supported by utility companies, and consumer and conservation groups — say those worries are misplaced.

Patty Durand, the group’s director, said the meters don’t transmit that kind of data and only send information about how much electricity is being used. She said utility companies have had no data breaches, and though she expects they will eventually, she says consumers are at very little risk because the meters aren’t transmitting personal financial information such as credit card numbers.

And, proponents say, criminals looking to rob a home are much more likely to lurk outside someone’s house than they are to hack their network.

Eventually more people will have appliances that hook into a home’s smart meter to use power more efficiently, saving them money on utility bills, Harnish said. For example, a refrigerator could use information from a smart meter to cool down at a point in the day when energy is relatively cheap.

But bringing appliances online will just give utility companies and potential hackers a more intimate portrait of what’s going on in a person’s home, Shear said. This detailed data could be sold to outside companies for marketing or other purposes, he said.

“I don’t expect the minutiae of what I did in my house to be fair game,” Shear said.

To avoid that, Pennsylvania state Rep. Mike Reese, a Republican, has introduced legislation that would reverse a state smart meter mandate and limit how and when utility companies can share information gleaned from the meters.

“This gives a level of confidence to our customers that their information is private,” Reese said.

All states have privacy laws that require utility companies to protect consumer data and the companies generally can’t share that information without a customer’s permission, said Puesh Kumar, engineering and operations director for the American Public Power Association (APPA), which represents more than 2,000 publicly owned electric utilities. Utility companies aren’t sharing data with marketers, he said.

Who saves money?

Utility companies like smart meters because they save money in multiple ways, Harnish said.

Because the devices are on wireless networks, a power company can see exactly where a power outage occurs instead of relying on customer phone calls and dispatching people to look for the outage, he said.

“They’re able to get electricity back up quicker,” Harnish said. “That’s a big revenue saver.”

The price of energy also changes throughout the day as demand rises and falls, and smart meters allow utility companies to adjust what they charge customers for energy as they use it.

But most utilities are not using this kind of pricing yet, APPA officials said. Some offer rebates for people who use less energy during times of high demand, but most bill consumers at a flat rate.

Smart Meters and Health

Davidson is convinced the smart meters made him sick and the wireless radiation they emit continues to make other people sick.

“The two root canals were the biggest issue,” he said. “I never had any dental issues in my life and all of a sudden I need two root canals.”

A doctor certified that Davidson was sensitive to the radio frequency of the meter and it was removed by his power company after he lobbied the Ohio Public Utilities Commission. Slowly, he started to feel better.

Now an Ohio state senator is pushing legislation that would require that utility companies get permission from property owners before installing smart meters.

Based on surveys from the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative, worries about safety and health are the biggest consumer qualm about smart meters, director Durand said.

Kate Kheel, the director of Maryland Smart Meter Awareness, a group that opposes smart meters, points to surveys in which people in the U.S. and Australia say they have had headaches, dizziness and fatigue after being exposed to the meters.

“It’s not right to force this kind of exposure 24/7 on someone’s home without knowledge of the science,” Kheel said.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer reports that the kind of radio frequency given off by the meters may be carcinogenic to humans. But the American Cancer Society says it is unclear if smart meters put people at risk for developing cancer.

Durand’s group says the meters emit much weaker radio frequencies than other common devices such as cellphones, baby monitors and microwaves.

“We’re confident there is no health risk associated with electrical pulses that smart meters are sending,” she said.

–Sarah Breitenbach, Stateline

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19 Responses for “States Begin Increasingly to Let People Reject Smart Meters Amid Health and Privacy Fears”

  1. Sherry says:

    We are one of the few local families who are paying the “highway robbery” of $13.00 extra a month. . . NOT to be bombarded by radio frequency waves 24/7. OK. . . call us foolish, but how much is your good health worth to you?

    The FACT is this is new technology. It has NEVER been thoroughly tested, for a long period of time. . . in a typical environment where those waves are added to top of other wireless technologies for WIFI and cell phones. PERHAPS each technology is safe on its own, but NO ONE knows the effects of the combinations, over years of 24 hour exposure, We also don’t carry our cell phones active in our pockets and sleep with them right next to our bodies. My health and my personal information is precious to me and I intend to do my best to protect both in any way I can.

    What is completely unjust and unfair is that I am being charged $13.00 every month for those choices and protections!

  2. Smart Meter Education Network says:

    It is VERY IMPORTANT to note that the radiofrequency transmissions are not the only problem with smart meters. The dirty electricity (line noise / dirty power) generated by the digital meters (whether or not “smart”) causes the same health problems as the radiofrequency transmissions. People with so-called opt-out meters are getting just as sick, because of the dirty power. A few of these people experience a slight reduction in symptoms because the RF transmissions from their smart meter have ceased. There is much information about dirty electricity at the Smart Meter Education Network website.

  3. Smart Meter Education Network says:

    Note that the statement by this news service that 15 states allow customers to opt out is somewhat misleading. Many states or utilties allow customers to “opt out,” but that means you get a radio-off smart meter or a digital meter, not an analog! That is not an opt out of smart meters!

  4. Gio says:

    I agree with Sherry. I used to live on Leaver Dr and I only knew of one other home in the neighborhood that refused those smart meters. Besides the health concerns, I also don’t being spied on . It’s bad enough the government is monitoring us 24/7 , now we have private entities doing the same and most people are ignorant to the fact.

    Hopefully you don’t have anybody in your home with a Pacemaker !

  5. Rich Mikola says:

    Wouldn’t it be easier to just cover your head with tinfoil? DUHHHH!


    The question is – should you really be concerned about smart meter emissions?

    The answer is – NO! RF energy levels from smart meters; and all wireless devices in all areas accessible to the general public are required to meet FCC exposure guidelines. The limits specified in the guidelines are based on an ongoing review of all published scientific studies on the health impacts of RF energy. Levels of RF energy emitted from smart meters are typically well below these exposure limits – and also far below any international guidelines. As long as exposure is below the FCC Maximum Permitted Exposure (MPE) limit, there is no convincing scientific evidence that these emissions cause harm. And transmissions certainly do not contain any personal information – just power consumption data and the meter serial number.

  7. wishful thinking says:

    Have heard that these smart meters are made in China…
    So not only are we making the Chinese rich instead of ‘our own’ we have another Big Daddy taking away a lot of our privacy.
    My hubby and I fought them for almost 2 years – we taped a big fat clearly written note to our FPL box with skull and crossbones ” Do not install smart meter’.. When they got approval for the $13 monthly extortion charge we caved in.
    We would gladly pay a one-time removal fee to get our old -not-so-nosy meter back
    What next ? Robots telling us what to do?

  8. Layla says:

    Sherry, I agree with you 100% on this one.

  9. MM says:

    Sadly, because of those that caved and others that didn’t want them but were too coward to refuse – the price remains high.

    There were 36,000 original refuser’s of FPL’s smart meters (on the “delay” list). Once fees were imposed, they got that list down to 6700. The more people that oppose it – the lower the cost per person is.

    Maryland PUC just ordered a reduction in fees because their refusal rate is high – about 4%. The utility could not justify their original rates. There is power in numbers, always remember that. The people have more power than they realize, they just don’t exercise it enough.

  10. Sherry says:

    When the FPL technician came out to change out our meter. . . even though I contacted FPL and told them I didn’t want it changed. . . I physically stood in his way and explained my position. I also said that I was protecting his “American” job, too. You should have seen the shocked look on his face. I thought the mature family man of color was going to break down and cry. He looked at the ground and softly said something to the effect that he didn’t think any white person cared about him at all. I put my arm around his shoulder and told him that I do.

    This is what I remember when I pay that extra $13 a month. It’s what keeps me from getting so angry every 30 days. I strive to live my Buddhist spirituality consciously.

  11. cheats says:

    Are you all sure people don’t want to be able to use their magnetic scam devices that only work on the old meters? I think it’s just harder for people to steal electric with the smart meters. If you have wifi or your neighbor has it or if your grow indoors and have digital ballasts or,cell phones, I mean all these things have rf frequency. I’d rather have a smart meter than have some power guy coming on my property every month.

  12. La Pew says:

    I have noticed my toe nails have been growing unusually fast since they put in that smart meter

  13. Billy Bob Boo says:

    Nice, Sherry! :D

  14. Bodhi Mom says:

    Doubting Thomas,

    The FCC guidelines are outdated and fraudulent, especially based on all the studies of harm and adverse health effects way below the FCC Standard. Go look at all the studies yourself! Are you trolling for the Wireless Industry here?

  15. Bodhi Mom says:

    Cheats is another troll for the Wireless Industry?

    The RF radiation coming out of Smart Meters is much much higher than coming out of our cell phones and Wi-Fi. This is why so many people are coming down with symptoms and illnesses from these devices. Smart meters are the most offending devices contributing to the adverse electromagnetic pollution of our natural environment.

  16. Sherry says:

    Assuming that your neighbors are actually paying more, yet making decisions because they want to cheat is absolutely a statement from a pitiful human filled with distrust of others. What a very sad reflection of some in our society!

  17. Sherry says:

    Thanks so much Billy Bob Boo!


    Not only have I looked at them – I actually understand what they mean. And, it is not what you believe they mean.

    Check out what expert review panels think of the evidence of adverse health effects:


    Says you. But, it is the opt out approved by the Public Utilities Commission. So your definition has no relevance.

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