Marin backs smart meter investigation

07/22/2010

Local installation of PG&E smart meters should halt, pending an independent investigation by the California Public Utilities Commission indicating whether or not the meters are effective, Marin County Board of Supervisors declared on Tuesday. Supervisors also called for a statewide hearing on health issues posed by electromagnetic frequencies emitted by the meters.

The board unanimously approved a letter drafted by supervisors Hal Brown and Judy Arnold to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which says: “Given the unusually high rate of reported device failures, the cost of installation ($2.2 billion), the concern and uncertainty expressed by the public regarding Smart Meter operational accuracy and the wireless technology employed by the system, it seems not only fiscally prudent but appropriately protective of the public trust to suspend operation of the Smart Meter system until your independent investigation is complete and remedies implemented, if warranted.” 

Supervisors admit that though the letter places greater emphasis on financial concerns and the questionable efficiency of smart meters, health concerns are a driving force behind their desire to see installation put on hold. 

“Smart meters could play a very effective and helpful role. The problem is that they are wireless, and that’s a shame,” said Supervisor Charles McGlashan, who acknowledged that he is affected by electromagnetic radiation and can no longer use a cell phone because of the pain it causes to his ear and throat. “Science evolves, and then we find out later ‘Oops, we should have taken a more precautionary approach,’” he said.

Mary Beth Brangan of Bolinas pointed out that Germany and Italy have installed smart meters, but used existing infrastructure to transmit data rather than creating a wireless meter-to-meter grid. She left the meeting early to join a protest outside CPUC headquarters in San Francisco.

Others think wireless signals emitted by smart meters don’t pose a health risk, and that overblown hysteria might lead to the loss of a promising technology. “We think it’s absolutely critical we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” said Bob Spofford of Sustainable San Rafael. “Those health issues have been studied since the dawn of cell phones—there is no connection to those health issues. What they’re saying is, ‘Take my loopy theory and put it on an equal footing with legitimate science,’ and that’s a very slippery slope, and I would hate to see the county go down that on an issue as important as global warming.”

Until the CPUC responds to the board’s request, smart meters will continue to be installed across Marin.