Taking back our power


Almost exactly four years ago, June McCrory and Katharina Sandizell-Smith, two young West Marin mothers, made national news by blocking the road to Inverness to smart meter installers and becoming among the first in the country to be arrested over the issue. Their arrests shocked many in the industry into realizing that all was not well with their plans.

After an unprecedented multi-year delay, a final decision on opting out of smart meters will be made by the California Public Utilities Commission next Thursday, Dec. 18. 

Those of us in West Marin and Fairfax became leaders in the fight against the shift to smart meters. We joined leaders in Sebastopol, Scotts Valley and beyond in voicing health, safety, security and privacy concerns. Fairfax City Council’s resolution asserting the right of communities to opt out helped kick off what eventually became 57 cities, counties and one tribe to officially object.  Many called for moratoriums on installation; over a dozen made installation illegal.

People began to speak out to the bi-weekly C.P.U.C. business meetings in San Francisco, and PG&E and the commission’s president, Michael Peevey, were getting nervous. People were relating heart-wrenching stories of being physically devastated by the effects of the meter’s incessant pulsing microwaves. Many close to banks of multiple meters in apartment buildings or condominiums were especially injured. 

After sitting through many hundreds of such testimonies, Mr. Peevey declared that an opt-out would be offered, and established an official proceeding to work out the details.

After producing dozens of videos, writing articles, organizing events, chasing installer trucks out of Bolinas and blocking trucks in Stinson Beach, my husband, Jim, and I became legal intervenors on behalf of the public, arguing for free, community-wide opt-out. After all, we never opted in; why should we be forced to pay to not have something? And doesn’t being forced to pay to not be harmed constitute extortion?

With colleagues in Sebastopol and Santa Cruz, we gathered information damning the smart meter technology and set a tone that has reverberated throughout the world. After repeated investigations, our fears about the techno plan were validated again and again. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Cancer Research concluded that microwaves in the frequencies used by wireless devices, including smart meters, are a class 2B probable carcinogen, as is asbestos, arsenic and benzene.

The American Academy of Environmental Medicine issued a letter to the C.P.U.C. calling for an immediate moratorium on installation of the meters, citing peer-reviewed studies showing biological effects from microwave frequencies.

Security experts warn of dramatically increased vulnerability to the electrical grid by cyber attacks because of wireless smart meters  James Woolsey, the former head of the C.I.A., has said that smart meter technologies make the grid stupid. Thousands of fires have been reported and at least two deaths caused by the meters; these have been settled out of court with gag orders. Canadian Saskatchewan utility C.E.O. Robert Watson resigned because of having to recall all meters due to a rash of fires.  And now utilities are profiting from selling individual ratepayers’ private data gathered by meters.

Since the meters continuously bounce thousands of powerful microwave emissions between neighboring meters, an individual opt-out doesn’t remove the harmful emissions. Multiple banks of meters produce really lethal amounts of radiation.  Therefore, community opt-out is the only solution. 

Unfortunately, at the Dec. 4 meeting, utility commissioners decided against allowing communities to opt out and to require those refusing a smart meter to pay for the privilege of not having one. Mr. Peevey actually ridiculed communities that voted for community opt-out as “undemocratic.” The final vote will take place at the Dec. 18 meeting in San Francisco, starting at 8:30 a.m. at Van Ness and McAllister, in San Francisco. We will carpool from West Marin.

Though it will still be possible to opt out, you will have to pay a $75 fee upfront and then an $10 extra per month; low-income CARE ratepayers pay $10 upfront and $5 per month, pricing it out of range for many poor people.

We encourage everyone outraged at this injustice and willful ignoring of those pleading on behalf of their health, safety, security and privacy to be at the meeting to demand community opt-out and no fees. We may have lost this round, but this patently illegal affront to people’s rights to health and safety and to the right of elected officials to protect their constituents will be challenged in court.


Mary Beth Brangan is a co-director of the Bolinas-based Ecological Options Network. She and her husband, Jim Heddle, organize and support people confronting survival