Adverse health effects. Trespassing and privacy issues. Increasing costs on the consumers. A loss of control. Hacking potential.
The concerns about smart meter programs, which are rolling out in cities worldwide, are increasing, potentially refuting some of their purported benefits of efficiency, fewer greenhouse gas emissions and improved energy security.
Josh del Sol remembers when smart meters were being installed a couple years ago in British Columbia. Within a day of a meter being installed at a friend’s home, del Sol said she started experiencing symptoms.
“Rashes, nausea,” del Sol told TheBlaze in a phone interview. “I thought, I’ve got to find out what is going on.”
Del Sol began researching and thought he would launch a YouTube series detailing what he would find about smart meter programs. The more he looked into the controversial technology, which records a home’s energy use and wirelessly communicates it to the energy provider, the more he realized he had enough content for a full-fledged documentary.
This month, del Sol launched “Take Back Your Power,” a nearly two-hour feature detailing the range of issues people have experienced with the meters.
“I was honestly surprised at the difference of perspective the utility and the government have to the perspectives of individual citizens,” del Sol said.
It is this difference of perspective — companies and municipalities touting the benefits and safety of the devices, while many consumers balk about them — that intrigued the director of the documentary.
That and this is “the first time that there’s a big seemingly organized program to essentially monitor and control what is going on in people’s houses.”
“This is just the start of what’s being designed,” del Sol continued later in our interview.
Here’s the documentary’s trailer:
The documentary features a mother in California whose power was cut off for seven weeks when she refused a smart meter and was told she could not install her own. Although she cited a loophole where she could have her own meter if the company agreed to inspect it, they didn’t.
In another case, an elderly woman suffered nose bleeds and could no longer sleep in her bedroom after a “smart meter bank” — a block of smart meters serving several units — was installed on the outside wall.
These are just a couple cases of people claiming to suffer the effects of radiofrequency energy. The Food and Drug Administration maintains a list of products around the home that emit such radiation (smart meters not among them), but the Federal Communications Commission has reported there is “currently no scientific evidence (establishing) a causal link between wireless device use and cancer or other illnesses.”
This clip from the documentary shows the meter’s alleged impact on blood cells:
In addition to covering the health issues that some have said are associated with radiation coming from the meters, some homeowners feel there is a trespassing issue as well. TheBlaze has reported before on videos shot by homeowners showing utility employees entering property without permission to replace meters.
“Take Back Your Power” includes a homeowner’s footage showing a utility worker physically kicking in his home’s door to get into his basement to find the meter:
From a safety standpoint, the documentary shows local news reports of meters that have caused house fires. One person labeled as a PG&E whistleblower goes as far to allege the company can remotely start a fire when a customer is delinquent in bill payments. A PG&E spokesperson in the film though said they hadn’t received any reports of smart meter fires.
The Illinois Commerce Commission investigated fires related to ComEd meters with the Chicago Tribune reporting last week it found employees were not adequately trained at meter installation.
“If ComEd conducts adequate inspections and makes all necessary repairs, then fires associated with smart meter installation should no longer threaten ComEd customers,” the report stated.
Federal stimulus funds for a smart grid program started at $3.4 billion, later increased to $11 billion.
“This created a situation where utilities were given a massive financial incentive to go along with the program,” del Sol says in the documentary.
But the smart meters are resulting in energy savings for both the grid as a whole and consumer’s bills, right? The documentary points to several news reports that find this isn’t the case. Del Sol also speculated that programs could someday charge people more if they use energy during “peak” hours.
“It’s all about money,” Bill VanderZalm, former premier of British Columbia, said in the documentary. “We’re going to be charged for time of use one day, it’s coming.”
A distinct difference in programs that del Sol learned from his research was between local governments that had a state in the utility running the program and those that didn’t.
The city of Naperville in Illinois, for example, owns the utility that is installing the meters. It is in this city where some citizens protesting the smart meters, refusing access to their traditional analog meter for installation of an electronic meter, were arrested.
In contrast, del Sol said some local governments without a financial interest in the utility actually issued memorandums against smart meters.
“Local governments that have no direct interest in the utility tend to side with the people,” he said.
Among other issues discussed in the film is the vulnerability of a large, centralized system and the potential for hacking. Also detailed is the concern some have that the system will be advanced enough to “track” a person’s movements inside a home by recognizing the appliances they were turning on and off.
The other perspective
In response to del Sol’s film, Patty Durand, Executive Director for the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative, penned an op-ed for USA Today making “a case for continued deployment of smart meters”:
Research shows that health and privacy concerns raised by groups opposed to the digital meters are unfounded.
Healthwise, the RF, or radio frequency, emissions emitted by digital meters is well below the limits set by Federal Communications Commission and is 10 times below levels produced by other common household devices like cell phones, garage door openers, satellite TVs and TV remotes.
With regards to privacy, cybersecurity is just as important to utilities as it is to any institution. Efforts to protect digital data has increased in importance for the banking, health care and credit cards industries. There has never been a breach of a consumer’s energy data and utilities are working hard to make sure it stays that way.
Durand also stressed the importance of the meter’s two-way communication capabilities to help consumers control their energy and give the utility the ability to make decisions that could prevent power outages.
But from del Sol’s perspective and those in the documentary, some of these claims don’t yet add up to a system that protects users’ health and privacy.
From a larger viewpoint, he said, “We have to be asking as a society, do we value still our constitutional rights? …or do we want to subjugate these rights to corporations?”
Check out the website to learn more about where screenings are being held or how you could order a DVD. The film is also working with Yekra to make the film watchable on any connected device for on-demand rental of $4.99. Alternatively, those who wish to host the video on their own website can also become an affiliate of it.