Smart meters raise privacy questions plus health concerns

March 28, 2013

Smart meters are coming and critics warn that they are an intrusion into customer homes and that their method of transmitting information could have harmful health effects.

A new website, stopsmartmetersinoklahoma.org, by Joe Esposito of Owasso, chronicles the privacy issues and safety studies connected to the installation thousands of smart meters.

Amanda Teegarden, executive director of OK-SAFE, said companies like Public Service Co. (Northeastern Oklahoma) are replacing analog electric meters (which have a series of dials that look like the faces of a clock) with digital smart meters. The smart meters have a digital readout.

They read all the electrical impulses in that house, including the furnace, the air conditioner and the refrigerator, etc. The intent is to gather information.

“They can tell when you get home from work because you start turning on lights,” Teegarden said. “Maybe you turn on your stove or do your laundry. They see the spike in energy use. The tone is unique to each appliance. They can even tell what brand of microwave you are using.”

Smart meters are in Owasso, Bixby, Skiatook, Prue and Norman but not yet in Tulsa. They are starting to install them in Oklahoma City.

In Guthrie, a homeowner did not want a smart meter installed on his house against his will. The police handcuffed him in his front yard while workers put in the smart meter. When he agreed not to interfere, police removed the handcuffs.

“This is in the United States – in Oklahoma, ” Teegarden said. “The guy who had not committed a crime was handcuffed in his own front yard and prevented from moving.”

Teegarden said homeowners have the right to object to the switch to smart meters but the utility companies are persistent and will keep asking for permission until almost anyone will say yes.

“In other cities, they have showed up when the homeowner is gone. They have used ladders to get into the backyard and they have used bolt cutters to cut locks on gates,” she said. “They have ripped down signs which read, ‘do not install a smart meter.’”

In some cases, a homeowner can get a smart meter taken away and replaced with an analog but that could mean paying extra fees.

Energy companies claim they are phasing out meter readers and smart meters need to be mandatory. Teegarden pointed out that homeowners can read their own analog meter and phone in the numbers each month. Also, customers can pay an average monthly payment based on last year’s usage with an adjustment at the end of the year.

The effort to replace analog meters with smart meters is tied to sustainable development, Teegarden said. They have the ability to track people’s energy consumption and eventually moderate that consumption remotely.

“There also is growing body of evidence that they pose a significant health risk,” Teegarden said. “Not just the meters but the electromagnetic field and the pulsing signals they emit. Plus your neighbors’ houses are emitting these signals.”

This is on top of other signals like wireless routers, cell phones, etc. Canada, Italy, Australia and Israel are collecting evidence that these signals are harmful to people.  Some of them pulse up to 14,000 times a day, Teegarden said.

“There is evidence that prolonged exposure to EMF frequencies are damaging are seriously damaging to your health,” Teegarden said. “The privacy issue is the one people pick up on right away but smart meters are part of what’s called the ‘smart grid.’”

But linking all of your communication in one grid is not a good strategy, especially for the military, she said.

“It’s making our energy system more fragile, not more robust,” Teegarden said.

Canada is fighting smart meters.

“Canada is way ahead of us,” said Teegarden. “They have some experts with military backgrounds who understand that microwave technology was used for warfare purposes. There are all kinds of programs to protect people in the microwave industry.”

The smart meters are part of PSO’s gridSMART program.

According to www.psoklahoma.com, the advantages of a smart meter is that it lets customers monitor their own electricity use. If they register with PSO, customers can check their usage record online. PSO says smart meters meet FCC requirements and don’t interfere with other electronics in the home.

As to the health risks, PSO writes, “Radio frequency fields from advanced digital meters have been studied and found to emit very low fields and then only intermittently. Any exposure to humans would be extremely small. There are no known adverse biological effects from these small fields. To provide some perspective, under typical operating conditions, an individual meter would transmit for approximately 45 minutes over a 20-year operating life. This should provide significantly less RF exposure than a single cellular phone call of the same length.”

Kisha Henry, weekend anchor of Fox 25 in Oklahoma City, reported on the Billy Smith family in El Reno. OG&E installed a smart meter in his family’s home and his wife developed nosebleeds and chronic weakness. They had to move into a trailer one-quarter mile from their home. They had to build what is called a Faraday Cage for her to sleep in to block the signals.

A spokesman for OG&E said the radio frequencies are within FCC limits and are less than those produced by a cell phone.

According to the PSO website, customers cannot opt out of having a smart meter installed.