Judge Orders SDG&E to Prepare Opt-Out Plan for Wireless Smart Meters

Leading critic says: “SDG&E will charge customers extra fees for changeout of the smart meters ($75) and a monthly fee of $10 for the privilege of not being irradiated or intruded upon by SDG&E.”

Updated at 6:12 p.m. March 15, 2012

SDG&E customers who have lobbied against wireless smart meters for nearly two years appeared to win a major victory Thursday when an administrative law judge that would force the Sempra-owned utility to let customers get their old analog electric meters back.

La Mesa’s Sue Brinchman, who claims a “living nightmare” of health damage from wireless smart meters, has led the charge against state utilities as founder and director of the Center for Electrosmog Prevention.

In the latest of her blog posts on the issue, she wrote Thursday:

The opt-out will be provided at a cost. SDG&E will charge customers extra fees for changeout of the smart meters ($75) and a monthly fee of $10 for the privilege of not being irradiated or intruded upon by SDG&E. CARE customers (low-income) would be charged $10 for the switchout and $5 a month extra. Opponents of the fees point out that these charges appear tantamount to extortion—“pay or we will irradiate you.”

Brinchman noted that Yip-Kikugawa’s proposed decision has several more steps before being voted on and taking effect.

But the La Mesan said: “It could reasonably be expected to provide SDG&E's customers the opt-out sometime in May or before. It appears to be identical, in substance, to the order approved on Feb. 1 for Pacific Gas & Electric’s (PG&E's) customers.”

Brinchman said 10,000 PG&E customers in Northern California have received an analog meter as an opt-out since that date, according to the utility.

Original story from Sept. 8, 2011

Only a “very small fraction” of wireless smart meters installed in La Mesa have generated health complaints, says a spokeswoman for San Diego Gas & Electric Co., which began rolling out the devices here in 2009.

April Bolduc, the spokeswoman, said all residential customers in La Mesa—some 32,852 with electric meters and 22,201 for gas—now have such meters.

With a complaint rate of 0.16 percent for all aspects of smart-meter installation in SDG&E’s service area—1.4 million electric meters by the end of 2011—that would translate to 2,240 overall but 88 complaints in La Mesa.

Complaints range from “The meter installer stepped on my plant” to “My clocks are blinking,” Bolduc said.

But only a small fraction of those 88 would be from people asserting health problems ranging from headaches and dizziness to chills and ringing in the ears—as cited in a series of blog posts by smart-meter opponent of La Mesa and commenters on this site.

Besides the 55,053 residential smart meters already installed in La Mesa, Bolduc said 954 electric meters and 174 gas meters are being installed for small- to medium-sized businesses here.

In an Aug. 22 interview at SDG&E headquarters in Kearny Mesa, Bolduc responded to several issues raised by smart-meter critics. (See attached videos.)

In reply to assertions that SDG&E is unsympathetic to customers claiming health problems from radiofrequency radiation connected to wireless meters, Bolduc said:

“We actually have smart-meter experts. They’ll talk to [worried customers] on the phone; they’ll provide them with information. We … rely on experts throughout the world on smart meters. … We trust what they’re saying.”

Bolduc said SDG&E’s experts contend that radiofrequency radiation is “at a much lower level than the regular guidelines. So we take that as a fact—and we relay that information to our customers.”

Among the experts, she said, are those with the Federal Communications Commission and the World Health Organization.

“We rely on recent information from each of these organizations,” she said.

Asked by La Mesa Patch to supply the name of an expert on the health effects of wireless smart meters, Bolduc offered Leeka Kheifets of UCLA’s School of Public Health, whom Bolduc said “is not paid by SDG&E to provide us with the latest RF research.”

Bolduc listed Kheifets’ major research interests as:

Environmental and occupational epidemiology, epidemiologic methodology, methodologic issues in capturing environmental exposure, public health policy development, non-Ionizing (static, extremely low frequency and radiofrequency electromagnetic field exposures) and ionizing radiation, epidemiology of chronic diseases including cancer (particularly breast, leukemia and brain), cardiovascular and neurodegenerative disease.

Kheifets has not responded to Patch email queries sent Sept. 4. But UCLA lists her as having been paid $50,000 by the Electric Power Research Institute in 2003-04. Her EPRI research is summarized here.

EPRI, a nonprofit group funded by the electric utility industry and based in Palo Alto, says in its 2009 tax filing (attached) that it “represents more than 90 percent of the electricity generated and delivered in the United States.”

Bolduc said of Kheifets: “The Environmental Defense Fund interviewed her for a recent assessment of smart meter and radiofrequency exposure concerns.”

The website said:

One of the health experts we talked to was Dr. Leeka Kheifets, PhD, Professor in Residence at UCLA, Epidemiology, who sits on the Standing Committee on Epidemiology for the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection.

Our meeting with Dr. Kheifets helped inform our position that the limited RF exposure levels associated with smart meters should not result in reduced support for the smart grid.

Why are smart meters needed in San Diego?

Bolduc says it’s because the state Public Utilities Commission mandates them and since such meters are essential to a smart grid. And with San Diego County having the most solar-panel-equipped homes in the country—and the most plug-in electric vehicles in the nation—the smart meters are needed to track energy usage.

“When a cloud passes, and that [solar] energy goes away, we have to respond to that quickly,” said Bolduc (pronounced bol-DUKE), a San Diego resident.

“The best and smartest way you can do that is by having a smart grid with sensors on the ground [that can detect] ‘OK, I see a neighborhood over here in La Mesa … that’s full of photovoltaics. A cloud cover just hit.’ We need to be able to get electricity so we can support that neighborhood.

“That’s what our customers expect of us.”

Smart meters don’t have to be monitored remotely via wireless connections, Bolduc acknowledged. But hard-wiring them—via underground fiber-optics, for example—is extremely expensive, she said.

“Doing the wireless smart meters is much more cost-effective,” she said.

SDG&E is among several utilities that will take part in a Sept. 14 PUC workshop in San Francisco that will hear testimony on how customers might opt out of wireless meters.

But Bolduc said one option isn’t on the table: “We won’t restore analog meters because they don’t make analog meters anymore,” referring to the ones with the familiar revolving plates.

However, an option under review is simply turning off the wireless connection and deploying a meter reader to check the numbers on a regular basis—as in the past with monthly backyard visits.

Bolduc said customers have been praising the new smart meters, in fact, noting the ease of going online to view their electric usage for the day, week or months before.

“They don’t have to wait till the end of the month to get their bill” to see how much power they used, she said.

Although rates based on peak hours of use are possible down the line, SDG&E doesn’t yet use smart meters to charge customers for higher use during the afternoon.

“Once these rates get rolled out,” Bolduc said, “I can sign up for a program that maybe, during the peak [usage] hours during the day, it would be more expensive, and at night it would be less expensive—so that I would know that the hours that I’m home … I’m actually paying less money.”

Komfort March 18, 2012 at 03:13 AM
Cop out. Aaron makes a point, but it is not a point. I get it now. You must be rubber.
Aaron March 18, 2012 at 03:39 AM
@Komfort: Your failure to fully read my comment does not make my explanation a cop-out.
Komfort March 18, 2012 at 05:38 AM
You defended sdge's stake and you were wrong. What did I miss?
Aaron March 18, 2012 at 04:47 PM
@Komfort: apparently you missed everything. Please go back and fully read my comment, and fully read my explanation of the comment, as they are quite clear and quite correct.
Komfort March 18, 2012 at 05:37 PM
Will it be easier to fully understand your comment if I pretend SDGE did not take $26,000,000 of "recovery" funds? Money goes from a to b no matter what we do, right? I would hate to see you negotiate vehicle purchase. If you want the link to the .gov site again, I can post it. It would help if you read it fully.
Aaron March 18, 2012 at 05:44 PM
@Komfort: Since it appears you did not actually read my explanation, I will explain it a SECOND time: "...not only did I preface the comment with "From SDG&E's point of view" but the term "they've invested" is subjective as well. Wether SDG&E got the funding from grants, taxes, or rate increases, the bottom line it that the money eventually became THEIRS to invest in smart grid technologies." How hard is that for you to understand?
Komfort March 18, 2012 at 06:13 PM
I see.
Susan Brinchman March 18, 2012 at 10:34 PM
Links to highly qualified independent experts and physicians are of help, as their education and expertise speaks for itself. They are right, too, as they describe the same symptoms many thousands have reported from smart meters. This is valid. Industry reports hardly compare. Now that SDG&E and the other CA utilities that rammed smart meters down our throats have admitted that the pulses occur every few seconds and experts say this is consistent with DANGER, we have the evidence of why smart meters should be banned everywhere. Makes no difference at all what businesses spent on these. Dangerous devices are often recalled. This goes beyond that. This is a dangerous device on all our homes and businesses that has not been recalled. Wake up, readers. Opt-out and demand a ban. www.smartmeterdangers.org for more info
Aaron March 18, 2012 at 10:55 PM
Links to biased scare blogs are pointless. I bring up the parallel of the "cell phones are bad/cell phones are okay" 'studies' that have been going on for the past two decades or more. The only thing this proves is that anyone with an agenda can pay for a study from any number of 'experts' to support their claims. Where does your knowledge of the RF spectrum come from aside from these scare blogs? You used the scare word "irradiate" which is such a broad term that it applies to literally everything you see. After all, light is radiation. You also use the scare word "microwaves". Microwaves over everything in the RF spectrum from 300 Hz to 300 GHz. That covers everything from radio and TV stations, cordless phones, cell phones, wireless devices, smart meters, microwave ovens, and pretty much everything we use today that operates wirelessly. If you want to ban smart meters based on this pseudoscience, then you must work to eliminate all RF from the environment. That includes your computer and internet connection; both utilizing wireless technology in some form along their infrastructure. Once you eliminate all RF from your life, we'll all be better off.
Chris March 19, 2012 at 03:47 AM
My retired neighbor also worked with the navy in communications and is dead set against smart meters. He has the ringing in his ears from the RF radiation due to working with the navy. The Army study said that people that don't appear to have RF problems appeared to have damaged their inner ear and that is why they can't hear the sounds. They did say it still effects them. I don't have a smart meter but can hear the transmissions when they send out data and I get terrible headaches if I visit someone with a meter. I know of several people who can hear the buzzing and have been made ill by the smart meters. If only one person is ill, it should be enough to stop the program. This was billed as safe for everyone and it is clearly not safe and is untested on the weakest amongst us. It doesn't matter if it doesn't effect you. What matters is will it effect a vulnerable person. As with the military, your society is only as strong or safe as the weakest member. I'd think as retired military you'd understand that concept and want to protect women, children, fetuses, pets, the elderly, and handicapped.
Chris March 19, 2012 at 03:57 AM
David- your comments should be censored if all you can do is call people names and not give valid and thoughtful opinions. This has nothing to do with Viet Nam but if the war is still bothering you could get some therapy to overcome your hurts. The WHO is not junk science and neither is the US Army study. In fact, the WHO used over 5500 independent, peer-reviewed studies so by scientific standards they cannot be junk science. I don't use wireless routers, cordless phones, etc. I choose NOT to increase my cancer risk. Why should a company demand that I increase a risk to my person? Now, I have to pay to partially avoid the risk. That is extortion by definition. No one has told be how I can keep my neighbors RF radiation off of my property.
Chris March 19, 2012 at 04:05 AM
To Aaron --It is possible to limit RF exposures from household devices. It may surprise you but lots of folks don't have cordless phones, use microwaves, or have their cell phones attached to their head 24/7. Just because you don't like the research doesn't mean it is biased. The WHO, county and state California health departments, NY city radiation experts, etc. are not anything but quality scientific researchers. In fact, they actually would have a great deal of political pressure not to question RF radiation. The fact that they do discredits your point of view as they are so convinced that they point out the dangerous despite political pressures.
Kevin George March 19, 2012 at 03:42 PM
Just because you didn't read them doesn't make them non existent. Go click on Susans copious amount of blogs with their endless links. She has posted five times as much info on this website as any other blogger. Go ahead and invest four or five hours and read them. As for the charge, it's the same as going to 99 cent pancake breakfast and wanting waffles for the same price. The product doesn't cost any more but the system is set up to deliver pancakes, not waffles. The ten dollars a month would bve for someone to come out and read you r meter.
Susan Brinchman March 19, 2012 at 04:44 PM
None of the rf so far has been in a mesh network from pulsed radiation, forced upon the general public, on their property. If one wishes to purchase and use products that emit rf they can. The Hirsch report shows that smart meters are way off the scales with all other household appliances (160 x that of cell phones). http://smartmeterdangers.org/index.php/ten-things-you-should-know-about-wireless-smart-meters/85-smart-meters-worse. Since I am an educator with 30+ years experience, I am sure to use authoritative sources for the public. Those who wish to argue just to entertain themselves may not be interested in anything. I suppose we should accept what a blogger says with no authoritative, independent source? Ignore doctors? Ignore all published independent information and accept what the utilities tell us? I don't think so. But if you wish to do that it is your life and your choice. Don't harm loved ones by not looking into this, like children or grandchildren playing or sleeping near these meters. Just don't cause harm to your neighbors by keeping a smart meter on the house, or it could become a future legal issue!
Kevin George March 19, 2012 at 04:55 PM
"Just don't cause harm to your neighbors by keeping a smart meter on the house, or it could become a future legal issue!" Susan, just when I thought you couldn't say anything more preposterous............... So even if I personally don't think the smart meter is harming me I should get rid of for the good of mankind...........or because I will be sued?
Craig Maxwell March 19, 2012 at 07:18 PM
"Since I am an educator with 30+ years experience, I am sure to use authoritative sources for the public." Uh, right...
Tom Yarnall March 19, 2012 at 08:30 PM
Kevin, you must know that a person who devotes their every waking hour on a subject that just has scientific speculation and no proven scientific fact must be driven by an external force. Could it be the smart meter? Anything is possible. I suspect the per capita ratio of those who believe smart meters cause their maladies is about the same as those who believe the world will come to an end on a certain date or those who believe we are being watched by aliens floating around space in UFO'S. Kool Aid drinkers may have the same ratio.
Susan Brinchman March 19, 2012 at 09:05 PM
Mr. Maxwell, I have been inside your little bookstore in La Mesa (downtown), asking to meet with you directly, to discuss these issues, so you will be more informed. That offer still stands.
Kevin George March 19, 2012 at 09:53 PM
You could sell tickets to that one! I can easily imagine it on Cspan/BookTV
Tom Yarnall March 19, 2012 at 11:01 PM
I think you have that wrong Things. First prize is a Smart Meter Second prize is two Smart Meters Etc
Craig Maxwell March 20, 2012 at 12:05 AM
How gracious of you, Ms. Brinchman. Most "educator[s] with 30+ years experience [who, naturally, only use] "authoritative sources" wouldn't stoop to enter a "little bookstore" like mine.
Komfort March 20, 2012 at 12:49 AM
It is "their" money: http://campaign2012.washingtonexaminer.com/article/firm-sells-solar-panels-itself-taxpayers-pay/434251
Aaron March 20, 2012 at 12:56 AM
Komfort March 20, 2012 at 01:22 AM
Fast reader.
Aaron March 20, 2012 at 01:24 AM
Yes, thank you. The article has no mention of Smart Meters, SDG&E, or San Diego at all.
Doug Curlee March 20, 2012 at 04:29 PM
things i learned from things i learned.. i agree with that..whatever you said.. makes more sense than anything posted on this topic in a long, LONG time.. i think.. doug
Margo Schwab March 20, 2012 at 04:41 PM
Our 'smart meter' is exceedingly dumb. It has never worked. We then have workers come by repeatedly to 'fix' it and frankly we want to opt out because of the health risks.....Jessie Knight Jr. (at SDG&E) please help......
Kevin George March 20, 2012 at 04:46 PM
What do you mean doug(sic)? Removing your smart meter to protect yourself from being sued by your neighbor doesn't make sense? C,mon doug(sic) try to keep up:) "Just don't cause harm to your neighbors by keeping a smart meter on the house, or it could become a future legal issue! - S. Brinchman.
Mike G March 20, 2012 at 11:19 PM
She says as she sends this via her laptop and wireless router. Just put on your tin foil hat and move on with your life. All of your supposed health problems are due to your incessant and needless worrying about an imaginary situation. Your cell phone is a far greater RF emitter than the SMART meter. Do you own a microwave oven? Do you realize the computer screen you are reading this on puts off infinitesimal amounts of RF energy? Do you realize that the sun, the very star responsible for all life as we know it is constantly irradiating our home planet? OMG the sky is falling! Quack!
Mike G March 20, 2012 at 11:24 PM
Can you say "psychosomatic"? I knew you could. If not you may want to look it up.


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