The focus of public hearings and discussions on the OPALCO Broadband Wireless proposal has largely centered on the economics of installing a broadband, emergency services and wireless smart grid system. The benefits of access to high speed internet for business competitiveness and education, as well as improved emergency services communication, are without doubt highly desirable, but all components of the proposed smart grid network need to be fully examined and understood before implementation.
The use of wireless smart meters in the broadband system has been mentioned. I feel we need a full and informed discussion about the substantial risks to security, privacy, and health in using this kind of meter before the proposal moves forward. No doubt there will be different levels of concern and opinions about this technology, but each citizen in San Juan County should have the right to freely opt-out having a wireless smart meter installed on their home or business for any reason.
Privacy and Security Smart meters track electricity usage every minute of the day and this data will be transmitted through other smart meters back to the utility. The cyber risk of data hacking is substantial. With this level of collected data it is very easy to determine when you are or are not at home, what appliances are being used (TV, computer, stove) as well as the possibility of utility collected data being used or sold for marketing purposes at a later date. Many will consider having one's life monitored in this way a substantial invasion of privacy.
Conservation Through Increasing Rates Smart meters will open the possibility for new types of electricity rates (peak and off-peak use). This could provide some cost savings to the customer provided one changes one's lifestyle and reduces usage, but electricity rates and monthly fees to support the implementation of the proposed system will most likely make electricity more expensive. In both California and Texas, electricity rates have risen after the implementation of smart meters and substantial billing errors have occurred.
Health Safety The radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation generated from wireless smart meters is much stronger than cell phones or Wi-Fi routers, and the World Health Organization identified it as a possible carcinogen in 2011. Studies worldwide are linking radio frequency radiation to cancer, increased infertility especially in males, and DNA and chromosomal damage, even within FCC guidelines. Smart meters will broadcast these radio frequencies 24/7 from your home. Electromagnetic hypersensitivity is rapidly increasing, (currently 5-8% of the population) and studies suggest that up to 50% of the population may be hypersensitive by 2017 as exposure to this kind of radiation increases.
In California, after millions of smart meters were installed, the California Public Utilities Commission responded to public petitions ruling that individuals and communities have a right to paid smart meter opt-outs. However, there are continuing reports of utility companies installing meters without permission, cutting off electric power to those customers who have refused smart meters, and financial intimidation by substantial and ongoing extra fees to opt-out.
On May 4th, 2012 the Vermont State Legislature passed State Bill S.214 insuring that their citizens can opt-out of having a smart meter installed without charge, and requires that their State Department of Public Health and Department of Public Service hire an independent consultant to evaluate the health impacts of these meters which generate substantial amounts of electromagnetic radiation. This report is due in January 2013.
OPALCO representatives state that there is some urgency in deciding on their proposal due to the availability of low rate loans. Be that as it may, I think we need time for a fuller public discussion to make certain that all aspects of this proposed project will be truly beneficial in the long term and the right to freely opt-out of smart meter installation assured.
Eko Susan Noble
San Juan Island