Smart meter opposition grows

Posted Wednesday, August 10, 2011 in Investigation

Smart meter opposition grows

AUGUSTA — Further opposition to smart meters grew early this week when 19 CMP ratepayers filed a formal complaint against Central Maine Power (CMP) and the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC). While the 23-page complaint touches on many negative aspects of the meters, it focuses most on recent evidence regarding adverse health effects and electronic privacy issues.

In May, after ruling on earlier complaints, the PUC ordered that customers be allowed to opt out and retain their old meter but also required ratepayers to pay CMP $40 initially plus a $12 monthly fee for this option. The complainants say that this is nothing more than extortion, citing The Hobbs Act which defines the term as "the obtaining of property from another, with his consent, induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear, or under color of official right” to support their claim.

“There is plenty not to like about smart meters: harmful effects on wildlife, adverse health effects, electronic trespass and privacy issues, interruption with other wireless devices and over-billing,” said lead complainant Ed Friedman, whose grandfather defended clients against illegal wiretaps in the 1950s and 1960s. “With customer safety at the core of the PUC mission, they can’t, with any good conscience or legitimate legal standing, extort payment from ratepayers choosing to minimize exposure to meter problems.”

Shortly after the PUC issued its first order on smart meters, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (WHO/IARC) elevated non-ionizing radiation — the type emitted by smart meters, cell phones and other wireless devices — to their possible carcinogen category (2B). This puts smart-meter radiation at a higher risk level than such compounds as Aldicarb (active ingredient in the water-polluting pesticide Temik), Bisphenol A diglycidyl ether (BPA), and coal dust, and in the same group as DDT, lead, and chloroform. 

“The PUC has offered no substantial evidence or studies in the record concluding exposures to low levels of non-ionizing radiation are safe,” stated Nancy Gray, the owner and operator of Freeport's popular Harraseeket Inn. “As an innkeeper I have an obligation to provide my guests with a safe and enjoyable stay in Maine, including the assurance their visit here is free of adverse health effects and without electronic interference. The PUC would do well to remember tourism is Maine’s biggest business.” 

Research into health effects of low-level electromagnetic and radiofrequency (RF) radiation has been going on for over 70 years. In 1971, the Navy Medical Research Institute published a bibliography of over 2,000 studies finding biological health effects from microwave and RF radiation going back to the 1930s.

John Carroll of Central Maine Power pointed out that in the WHO paper, only hand-held cellular phones were considered a potential threat to human health. The type of device CMP has chosen, he says, is not considered harmful. "There is no evidence of a link to cancer except for the hand-held devices," he said. "The WHO report specifically classified three types of non-ionizing radiation: industrial radiation, encountered by those who work with radar and microwaves; environmental radiation, including electric lines and smart meters; and hand-held devices. The only evidence for increased risk of cancer comes from cell phones and other hand-held emitters."

According to Kathleen McGee, another complainant and former director of the Maine Toxics Action Coalition, the debate over the meters' health effects made no sense at all.

“The perspective of the PUC and the U.S. Department of Energy, a force behind this project, is one of non-sense, not common sense,” she said. “Their fundamental precept is reversed. Considering we all are, at root, just a compilation of electrically charged particles, the question authorities should be asking is how could EMF or RF radiation from meters and other devices not affect us at some level?”

Privacy concerns are high on the list for many of the complainants. The National Institute for Standards and Technology and the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers are among the more established entities to recognize potential privacy consequences of Smart Grid systems including: 1. identity theft, 2. determination of personal behavior patterns, 3. determining specific appliances used, 4. performing real-time surveillance, 5. revealing activities through residual data, 6. targeted home invasions, 7. activity censorship, 8. decisions and actions based upon inaccurate data, 9. profiling, 10. unwanted publicity and embarrassment, 11. tracking behavior of tenants, 12. behavior tracking, and 13. public aggregated searches revealing individual behavior.

Dresden complainant Charlotte Iserbyt, a former senior policy adviser with President Reagan’s Department of Education, criticized surveillance aspects of the meters.

“This is illegal search and seizure plain and simple, nothing more than warrantless wiretapping,” claimed Iserbyt. “Smart meters communicate with electronic devices in the home and transmit user information to the utility and/or third-party collectors. The net result is customer profiling and collection of detailed individual user data that can be sold or used by government.”

Carroll says that any notion that CMP is collecting user data for any purpose except billing is nonsense. "There are no third-party collectors," he said. "That's simply not true. The only company that will see user data is CMP."

An ordinance in Bath forbids CMP from installing smart meters unless the customer specifically opts in. This will put a burden on the people of Bath, Carroll says. "We will be forced by the PUC to charge Bath customers $40 plus $12 per month to maintain an obsolete technology," he said.

The new complainants seek the following from the PUC: 1) Stay the installation of further smart meters, or 2) Should further installations not be stayed, order future installations to be Opt In, and 3) Should Opt Outs continue, order past and future Opt Outs be at no cost to the ratepayer including switch-overs from ratepayers already with smart meters. 4) Should installations of smart meters continue, they request the commission ensure the required communication plan present, in an unbiased fashion, concerns expressed by this and prior complaints that identify problems (including health, interference with other devices, privacy concerns and other issues included in, but not limited to, this complaint) ratepayers may have with so-called smart meters. (Complainants contend the current CMP/PUC communication plan is incomplete and not transparent.) 5) That the commission establish, within the Public Advocate’s Office, a toll-free hot line, with the number listed on CMP bills and in their communication plan, where ratepayers may report smart meter complaints of all types. The group also requests the commission establish a database where such complaints will be recorded.

Meantime, on Tuesday, several requests for reconsideration of the "opt-out" policy were dismissed by the PUC. 

"Today’s decision is the latest of seven decisions since January by which the Commission has made three points about smart meter technology: First, CMP is using the right technology. Second, state and federal authorities have addressed the health and safety concerns raised in these cases. Third, the bulk of CMP’s customers should not be required to pay for the special preferences of the small number of people who are fearful of wireless communication networks or otherwise object to smart meter technology. We know this decision won’t be the end of these complaints, but we hope we’re getting close," Carroll wrote.

“What to do while this shakes out?” says Friedman. “I encourage ratepayers to keep their existing (electro-mechanical) meters and just not pay the extra fee. That sends a clear message.”

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