Fear, Loathing, and Smart Meters

Councilmembers Send Letter to Edison Asking for Thorough Vetting

Three members of the Santa Barbara City Council sent a letter to SoCal Edison asking that the installation of so-called smart meters be held off within city limits pending a thorough venting of public concern over the devices, reviled by members of the Sierra Club and the Tea Party alike. The letter was signed by Councilmembers Frank Hotchkiss, Michael Self, and Randy Rowse.

Hotchkiss, who said he’s trying to get the matter placed before the City Council for public review, added that his concern preceded last week’s forum on the subject, held at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort and attended by nearly 300 concerned citizens. There, the meters came under attack for the electromagnetic frequencies they emit, the higher costs of peak-hour electricity, and the opportunity for Big Brother-like invasions of privacy. SoCal Edison claims the new meters — which it planned to install between 2009 and 2012 — promote increased energy efficiency by charging more for peak-hour consumption while providing the new technology to allow consumers to better audit and change their consumption patterns.

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Critics, like Anthony Farrington, a county supervisor from Lake County, warned the new meters were really an indirect way of raising rates. He said customers equipped with smart meters experienced an average increase in their utility costs of 28 percent. Other critics expressed concern that the radio waves emitted by the meters — enabling two-way communication between customer and utility — could be harmful. Farrington said the utility companies have not conducted the proper environmental review to determine whether or not this is the case. SoCal Edison, which will start installing meters in Santa Barbara starting in early 2012, decided not to send a representative to the S.B. forum, expressing fear of being sandbagged.

Smart-meter supporters counter that cell phones, refrigerators, and fuse boxes give off far more radiation than smart meters. Lastly, critics expressed concern that the data generated by smart meters could be hacked by stalkers or government agencies and used improperly. Smart-meter supporters, in turn, argue that people worried about Big Brother have more to fear from their cell phone companies or internet tracking records.

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