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Think twice about smart meters

By Suzanne A. Foley-Ferguson
Jul 01, 2011 12:00 am

As stewards of the environment, we often find ourselves in conflict with man-made technologies that outpace safety standards. “Smart” electric meters, the devices that Central Maine Power is currently installing, are one such technology.

FOMB members should be concerned with CMP’s smart meter program and seriously consider opting out regardless of Maine’s Public Utility Commission decision allowing CMP to extort a fee from us to protect our own health, safety and privacy. The problem is that CMP’s meters communicate by wireless radio-frequency non-ionizing radiation (man-made RF radiation). Many organisms such as birds, fish, marine mammals, bees, ants and butterflies use naturally occurring electromagnetic fields to guide their migrations, give them a sense of direction or find food. But these fields can and are being disrupted.

Recent studies on the effects of man-made radiation on plants and animals have been alarming. (Kumar, Girish, Prof. Electrical Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, 2010) The unusual signaling characteristics and higher power intensities of radio-frequency (RF) radiation are very different than naturally occurring radiation. It’s well documented, for example, that RF radiation from cell phone towers can adversely affect wildlife. Studies show animals abandon areas where cell phone towers are installed. Cows have increased cancers and lower milk production, and birds have increased birth defects and failed nests. (Manville, Albert, M. Senior Wildlife Biologist, USFWS, 2007 )

Alarmingly, data increasingly show RF radiation from our beloved cell phones cause all sorts of adverse health effects in humans, including cancer (www.emrpolicy.org/www.ewg.org). As recent as November 2010, the Karolinska Institute, the organization that yearly selects the Nobel peace prize in medicine, issued a warning against wireless technologies. They urged governments to halt wireless deployments pending further study. In May 2011, The World Health Organization classified RF radiation as a “possible carcinogen,” placing it in the same category as DDT and gasoline exhaust. This is the same radiation CMP says is “safe” and will use to transfer your personal data all over Maine. Haven’t we all experienced in our lifetimes, the assurances of industry telling us everything is fine, only to find out later they weren’t telling us the truth (tobacco, mercury, asbestos, etc.)?

I’ve been pondering why so many well intentioned conservationists have fallen in love with the huge tragedy known as the Smart Grid. I suppose that many of them hope a smart grid, with components such as smart meters will (in and of themselves) conserve energy and reduce greenhouse gases. But that is not how the grid will function. Only if consumer behavior is changed, will “the grid” save energy and reduce our CO2 output. The component of the grid that is supposed to regulate energy usage is not the infrastructure, or the meter; it is you. So it’s really you who needs to be smart, not “the grid”. Unless utilities are able to turn our appliances on and off, which is a major privacy concern, they will not conserve energy except in miles driven by meter readers. Ironically, enabling wind and solar is touted as another grid benefit, but smart meters installed by CMP don’t provide for energy generated by home customers to feed the grid.

While smart grids may sound green, it’s the wireless industry and utilities benefiting, not the environment or consumers. Very little data support consumers using less energy as a result of this billion dollar taxpayer funded program. Connecticut’s Attorney General rallied against the costs of his state’s smart grid after a pilot project showed no energy savings at all (www.dpuc.state.ct.us). Similar results have been reported all over the country (www.drrc.lbl.gov/Peters, S. Lutzenhiser, et. al Behavioral Economics, Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, 2009).

Consumers can only get their real time energy usage if they buy all new grid-enabled appliances. Conservationists should ask where will we put all of our “dumb” appliances, and how much will that cost? Smart appliances will connect wirelessly to smart meters so even “off” they will be “on.” Many people reasonably question whether more energy consumed as a result of these “vampire” (always on) appliances. One thing is certain, our homes will become loaded with RF radiation from our neighbor’s meters, and our own 15-25 appliances, enabled or not. CMP (and their third party vendors) will know when we use our dryers, when we cook, turn on the TV or shower, whether we have a hot tub, and when we leave the house. In the old days, one needed probable cause and a search warrant. This is not good news for conservation or privacy; and certainly not smart.

Most worrisome to me are the radiofrequency radiation effects. Over 2,000 smart meter health complaints have been registered at California’s PUC so far. People are complaining about headaches, tinnitus, heart palpitations, insomnia, nausea and exhaustion (www.stopsmartmeters.org). Dr. Martin Blank, a professor at Columbia that studies bioelectromagnetics, is not surprised. When exposed to RF radiation, cells respond as if they are stressed, he says. These stress responses occur at all levels in our bodies, and any wireless device that uses RF radiation has the potential to create negative biological responses (www.electromagnetichealth.org).

Smart meters CMP and many utilities all over the country are deploying are a part of a new wireless technology known as an RF “mesh,” which is like a web. The mesh uses RF radiation to send data to and from people’s homes by using antennae in the smart meters. The meters receive and transmit, not only your electrical data, but as many as 15,000 other people’s data every day via the “best route” in the web. Thus RF radiation, similar to cell phones, will be constantly transmitted to, from, and into homes all over Maine 24/7 [spiking every few seconds at orders of magnitude higher than your phone]. One should know cumulative effects of non-ionizing radiation are not regulated. In fact, FCC regulations are extremely outdated, covering solely the “thermal” effects of microwave radiation on large males. This despite the fact scientific studies regarding this “possible carcinogen” have shown adverse effects for nearly three decades.

As early as 1970, the Naval Medical Research Institute compiled over 2,000 studies dating back to the 1930s showing adverse biological effects from low-level non-ionizing radiation. Friends, we just don’t want to know the truth. Even the EPA has said FCC radiation limits do not protect the public from long-term non-thermal radiation exposure and do not take into account vulnerable citizens with electrosensitivities or children whose developing brains are at risk. The harmful effects on animals and wildlife are currently being tested in court (www.emrpolicy.org)

Our electricity provider has now joined an industry denying mounting evidence that RF radiation damages DNA strands. CMP and our own PUC could have selected a non-wireless shielded fiber optic system for Maine’s “smart grid” but it would have affected their bottom line. They had a choice, and now you have a [false] choice to keep your own meter. For those whose analog meters have not already been replaced, the PUC has ordered CMP to communicate the “benefits” [no drawbacks] of smart meters. Unfortunately the Commission is also requiring you to pay CMP [via the “Opt Out”] “protection money,” if you don’t want a smart meter, to avoid possible health risks and to ensure your constitutional right to privacy. This despite months of testimony to the PUC by Complainants and over 8,000 people requesting opt outs. Visit Maine’s Smart Meter Safety Coalition website at www.smartmetersafety.com for more information. You can be quiet, or you can assert your rights.

(Suzanne A. Foley-Ferguson, owner of Beal’s Ice Cream in Portland, is one of five complainants before the Public Utilities Commission on the issue of smart meters. She has worked on environmental issues for over 25 years including a three-year stint at the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust and founding the Friends of Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. She served as a Scarborough Town Councilor for six years and currently chairs the Parks and Conservation Land Board in Scarborough.)

 

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