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.”
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.”