This article is in today's SF Chronicle:
Sebastopol safety concerns over PG&E SmartMeters
David R. Baker, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, February 26, 2010
To the list of complaints lodged against Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s new SmartMeters, add another - potential health risk.
Some Sebastopol residents have questioned whether radio frequency radiation from the meters, which transmit their data to the utility via wireless communications, could threaten their health.
Their concerns grow from the heated debate over whether radiation from cell phones, Wi-Fi computers and other wireless devices can cause cancer or other ailments. They want a moratorium on installing the SmartMeters to measure electricity and gas use.
"We are being increasingly exposed to an exponential amount of radio frequency radiation," said Sebastopol resident Sandi Maurer. "Now there are going to be two of these things in every home."
Maurer is the founder of the EMF Safety Network, a clearinghouse for information on the possible dangers of electromagnetic fields. She and other residents persuaded the Sebastopol City Council this month to ask California energy regulators to stop SmartMeter installation while the possible health risks can be assessed.
PG&E has already fielded complaints that the advanced meters aren't accurate, a charge the utility insists isn't true. Other people have complained that the meters make it too easy for PG&E to disconnect customers who have fallen behind on their bills, because now power can be turned off without sending a technician to a customer's house.
g&e defends meters
PG&E says the meters pose no risk to public health. Research cited by the company shows that the meters put out less radiation than cell phones, computers and microwave ovens. Nor do the meters transmit continuously.
"We believe our SmartMeter equipment is completely safe" and falls within all Federal Communications Commission guidelines, spokesman Paul Moreno said. In addition, people won't hold SmartMeters to their heads head for minutes at a time, Moreno said.
"They're in different ballparks," he said.
The possible risk of cell phones and other mobile devices remains in deep dispute. The radiation those devices emit does not carry enough energy to disrupt DNA. Most studies have shown no potential harm to human health, but some have raised doubts - enough that research continues.
"For every report you can find that says it may be a hazard, you can find one that says it isn't," said Sebastopol City Council member Kathleen Shaffer.
Shaffer is more concerned about the meters' reliability. The California Public Utilities Commission, which approved PG&E's SmartMeter installation program in 2006, recently commissioned a study on the meters' accuracy. After a vote of the City Council, Sebastopol Mayor Sarah Glade Gurney sent the commission a letter on Feb. 17 asking for a moratorium on SmartMeter deployment, citing concerns about health, accuracy and interference with other appliances.
"For me, if we're going to pay for them, and we have to have them, they have to work," Shaffer said.
Maurer isn't reassured that PG&E's SmartMeters meet federal standards - she considers those much too low. Two years ago, she helped persuade the Sebastopol City Council to turn down a project to provide free wireless Internet service in the city's downtown.
E-mail David R. Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared on page D - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle