By Miriam Raftery
March 24, 2012 (San Diego’s East County) – Earlier this month, an administrative law judge with the California Public Utilities Commission ordered San Diego Gas & Electric Company to prepare a plan that would give ratepayers the right to not have wireless smart meters.
But critics, who claim the meters are public health hazards, say the prospect of being charged for removal of smart meters and paying extra fees each month for meter readings is unacceptable.
Susan Brinchman of La Mesa, who contends she has suffered health problems after a smart meter was installed at her home, has led statewide efforts to raise awareness of potential health issues associated with wireless radiation. On her blog, she contends that charging consumers to opt out amounts to “extortion—pay or we will irradiate you.”
Earlier this year, the CPUC required Pacific Gas & Electric to allow its customers to opt out of smart meters and have older analog meters reinstalled. PG&E charged $75 for the removal ($10 for low-income residents) plus $10 a month ($5 for low-income ratepayers). According to Brinchman, 10,000 PG&E customers in Northern California have opted out and received analog meters.
Thus far, SDG&E has refused to replace smart meters. In an interview with Patch.com, SDG&E’s April Bolduc indicated the company has no intention of reinstalling analog meters, but is instead considering merely switching off the wireless function and having meter readers go out to take the readings.
SDG&E has maintained that a smart grid is needed to track energy usage and that the units pose no health risks, though some consumers have complained of headaches, ringing of the ears, heart palpitations and other symptoms that they believe are linked to electromagnetic pulsed radiation from smart meters at their homes.
Patch asked Bolduc to supply the name of an expert on health effects of wireless meters and was given the name Leeka Kheifets at UCLA’s School of Public Health. According to Patch research, Kheifets was paid $50,000 by the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit funded by the electric utility industry.
Erin Coller, SDG&E spokesperson, told East County Magazine that SDG&E is “glad the CPUC is moving forward” and that SDG&E will implement the opt-out in accordance with whatever terms and conditions are in the final opt-out decision.
Asked when the final decision is expected, she replied, “Most likely at the April 19 CPUC meeting.”
The vast majority of San Diego County residences already have smart meters installed and thus far, SDG&E refuses to start an opt-out list for those who want them removed. ECM editor Miriam Raftery asked to be added to such a list, and was not provided an option. She has had intermittent ringing in her ears since shortly after the meter was installed outside her bedroom wall—a condition that went away both times she travelled out of town.
Customers who have not yet had a smart meter installed do have the right to be added to a delay list by signing up at http://SDGE.com/delaylist. However, multiple local residents have advised ECM that even after signing up for the delay list, smart meters were installed at their homes against their wishes when they were not at home.
Grace Schlesier of El Cajon said she told SDG&E that she did not want smart meter, “so it was delayed. Then they contacted me again with the same request and I refused. However, one day I’m next to my garage and noticed SDG&E installed the meters against my request not to…Now I want my analog meter reinstalled and it’s my understanding they want to charge me $75 to change it out and charge me an additional $10 per month besides. This is outrageous.”
Schlesier said she is concerned about “radiation exposure, fire and an invasion of my privacy. Most people I’ve spoken with about the meters don’t even know about any of the risks and SDG&E installed smart meters without their knowledge. I want a permanent, no cost opt out,” she concluded. “This should be available to anyone who wants it.”
ECM asked SDGE’s spokesperson, Erin Coller, about Schlesier’s situation, but she declined to comment, citing privacy reasons.