The great smart-meter debate came to the Santa Barbara City Council this week, and, much like the freak-out fest at the county supervisors on the same topic early last month, the public turned out en masse to declare their concern and distrust about the soon-to-be-unleashed in-home electricity usage monitoring devices. Worried that the tentatively scheduled rollout of the wireless smart meters in area homes starting next February by Southern California Edison — being done in the name of energy mindfulness and conservation — will bring with it a host of both known and unknown adverse health effects while simultaneously violating the privacy rights of those being “watched” by the devices, a largely anti–smart-meter crowd urged the City Council to do all it could to prevent the coming invasion of controversial contraptions while also urging the responsible parties to properly investigate the potential long-term impacts of such a device radiating in homes throughout the state.
The discussion, which was brought to the council by members Michael Self and Randy Rowse, concluded with a 4-2 vote in favor of sending a letter to the California Public Utility Commission (the CPUC is the state entity that approved utility companies’ use of the devices in 2008 and has actual jurisdiction over the matter) echoing most of the worry spoken by their constituents and the desire to have more research done on the potential impacts. The letter, however, much to the dismay of Councilmembers Dale Francisco and Self (both of whom found themselves on the losing side of the vote) did not include a council-endorsed request for the CPUC to create a free opt-out program for would-be smart-meter victims, something that many public speakers hoped the letter would accomplish. Currently, the smart-meter plan does allow for customers to opt out, but they have to pay a fee to do so.