2012-03-22 / Front Page

Edison weighing opt-out option for smart meters

Customers could pass—but at a cost
By Anna Bitong

SmartConnect meter SmartConnect meter SmartConnect meters, Southern California Edison’s hotly debated electricity-use trackers, will arrive in Thousand Oaks this summer.

Installation of the devices, which began about a month ago at homes in West Ventura County cities including Camarillo, Ventura and Oxnard, will take place in T.O. by June or July, according to Rudy Gonzales, Edison’s region manager for the Greater Los Angeles area.

The new meters, which replace analog meters, digitally transmit current customer electricity use to Edison and let the utility company connect and disconnect service remotely and perform repairs more quickly, Gonzales said. Their older counterparts require Edison to send out one employee to read the meter and another to switch the service on and off.

The new technology allows customers to monitor their electricity consumption online in real-time and save money through budget-management tools and Save Power Day alerts, Gonzales said. The incentive program offers credits of up to $100 annually to participants who reduce their energy use between 2 and 6 p.m. on selected days up to 12 times a year, according to Edison’s website.

But critics of the arrangement insist that smart meters—which are also being implemented by other utilities like water and gas— emit unhealthy radiofrequency signals and give the companies too much control over their customers’ usage.

Susan Stewart of Westlake Village, a registered nurse and self-described environmentalist, said that Edison does not consider the effect of constant, long-term radiofrequency exposure from a source that cannot be turned off like cellphones or microwaves.

She said she’s seen many reports about people who experienced headaches, nausea and other health problems after a smart meter was installed at their home.

“They vastly underestimate the (amount of) exposure,” Stewart said.

“There’s so much radiofrequency energy outside of our homes. In our homes we should be able to be safe, (otherwise) the body doesn’t have a chance to recuperate,” she added.

Gonzales counters that the meters are safe. According to Edison, smart meters transmit energy just a few minutes every hour at a very low level of signal strength compared to other home devices such as cordless phones and baby monitors.

In addition, signal strength is diminished by distance, the company says. The energy emission 1 foot from the meter is less than 3 percent of the Federal Communications Commission’s exposure limit. At 3 feet away, the percentage decreases to .267 percent.

“We’re only in a position to provide the scientific data. Our objective is to educate and provide accurate information,” Gonzales said.

And the meters will only tell the power company how much electricity customers use and when they use it; that information will not be shared without permission, Edison says.

Still, there’s an option for residents who don’t want a smart meter to be installed at their homes. But they must take action soon: Once smart meters are installed, Edison will not remove them.

For a flat fee of $75, plus a $10-per-month surcharge, customers may be allowed to keep their old analog meters. The alternative plan is pending approval, Gonzales said. In the meantime, customers may delay installment.

“Those wishing not to participate would share the cost to maintain the old meter,” the manager said, as upkeep will require Edison employees to continue going to each home to read meters. “The cost shouldn’t be borne by those participating.”

To delay installment of a smart meter at your home, call SCE at (800) 810- 2369 (English) or (800) 477-4455 (Spanish). Thus far, fewer than 1 percent of customers in the county have asked to be placed on the delay list, Gonzales said.

Gonzales has been notifying the public about the upcoming change at City Council meetings. Local SCE customers will soon be receiving a notification letter regarding their installation date.

Stewart has already been placed on the delay list.

“We’re leaping into this technology without any kind of study,” the nurse said. “It’s important to stop dumping toxic stuff into the environment.”

For information about the dangers of smart meters and radiofrequency energy, Stewart suggested www.electricalpollution.com and www.smartmeters.com.

For more information about smart meters from Edison, visit www.sce.com/info/smartconnect or contact Gonzales at (805) 497- 5616.

Don’t want a smart meter?

To delay installment of a smart meter at your home, call SCE at (800) 810- 2369 ( English) or (800) 477-4455 (Spanish).

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