by Jonathan D. Libber1
Baltimore Gas & Electric (BGE) and many other utilities around the country are currently replacing our electric meters with “smart meters” also being referred to as “meter upgrades.”2 Wired analog meters, the ones many of us still have, are read monthly. They are accurate, safe, and reliable. Wireless smart meters, on the other hand, will communicate our energy usage to BGE 24/7 by means of radiofrequency microwave radiation (RF). This transmission of our data is accomplished through an infrastructure termed a “mesh network.” When the mesh network is “turned on” (a few months after our meters are installed), each meter will be in constant communication with surrounding meters. Our neighborhoods will then be blanketed with substantial amounts of RF, both indoors and outdoors. Eventually, the smart meters will communicate with our major appliances wirelessly using RFID chips. This communication with ‘chipped’ appliances will add yet more layers of radiation into the supposed safe haven of our homes.
Maryland Smart Meter Awareness (MSMA) opposes the installation of these meters, as they pose a threat to our health, safety, and privacy, while not helping us to save energy or money. In fact, many ratepayers who accepted a smart meter are finding their bills skyrocket. We are urging all Maryland residents to exercise their right to “opt out” of a smart meter installation. MSMA is not advocating the abolishment of RF technologies, only the use of common sense and the development and implementation of best practices in using these technologies in order to reduce exposure and protect public health. The following is a brief discussion of some of the issues surrounding smart meters and instructions about how one can opt out.
Smart Meter Health Concerns
Despite the fact that utilities are forging ahead with the installation of wireless smart meters, the utilities have refused to conduct any studies to determine what impact these meters will have on human health. Nevertheless, there are well over a thousand studies that have found RF microwave radiation, the type of radiation emitted by smart meters, to be harmful. Two internationally recognized medical organizations have already sounded the alarm on the ever growing public exposure to RF radiation. First, the World Health Organization, in 2011, classified RF radiation as a possible carcinogen.
Second, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM), an international
organization of physicians spanning 15 countries went on record in 2012, opposing the “…installation of wireless ‘smart’ meters in homes and schools, based on a scientific assessment of the current peer reviewed scientific literature.”3 Moreover, on July 12th of that year, the AAEM issued an alert to physicians that listed some 40 conditions for which they recommended the avoidance of smart meters. These included Parkinson’s disease, dizziness, depression, decreased pulmonary function, chest tightness, nausea, ocular burning, skin problems, Alzheimer’s, sleep disruption, headaches, ADD, anxiety, fetal abnormalities, pregnancy, cancer, fatigue, genetic defects, and more. The AAEM called for a moratorium on smart meter installations until these public health questions are resolved.4 MSMA is already receiving complaints of health issues from people with the conditions the AAEM warned us about. In the meantime, an independent researcher found that smart meters did produce negative health effects. That study is currently undergoing peer review.
It is the general consensus that children are at particular risk due to their thinner skulls and more rapidly dividing cells. Given the unprecedented and rapidly proliferating amounts of radiation we are already inundated with from cell towers, WiFi, cell phones, cordless phones, microwave ovens and so forth, do we really need this new layer? Will our health and that of our families, the elderly, the infirm, and our children soon reach a breaking point?
Smart Meters Invade Our Privacy
In addition to its health risks, smart meters facilitate a whole range of privacy violations by capturing large amounts of personal usage data hourly from each home, and transmitting it back to the utility. Anyone having access to this data (the utility, its contractors as well as potential hackers5) can easily determine such things as whether the home is occupied or vacant, when occupants are asleep; whether children are home alone; what medical equipment is in use; what expensive appliances we might own, and whether a business is being operated out of the home. Police in both Ohio and Texas have requested smart meter data to verify criminal alibis without a warrant! Since the utilities are third parties, the police do not need Fourth Amendment search warrants to obtain this data. While this approach stands the constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure on its head, the law allows for these invasions of privacy.
Smart meters will not only be able to tell which major appliances are in use and when, but also their make, model, and age. Thus, a company that markets wall ovens might request the contact information of everyone in the service area who owns a wall oven over five years old. While the utilities in Maryland insist they would never do such a thing, there is no law that prevents them from doing so. In California, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) has already reversed its original policy of not selling the smart meter usage data to third parties and is currently marketing this data. Right now, the smart meter data are not worth much to our Maryland utilities, but when the whole system becomes fully operational, this data will be worth a fortune. And there will be nothing to stop our utilities from selling this valuable data to third parties.6
Smart Meters Linked to Fires
Even though there are a large number of smart meter designs, only two of these designs have ever been certified safe by either Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or a similar organization.7 Neither of these two designs is being used in Maryland. Thus none of the smart meters used in Maryland have been certified safe by UL. At the same time, there have been over 900 fires around the country that have been linked to smart meters. There have also been numerous accounts of damage to appliances and electronic equipment that occur shortly after installation of a smart meter. In the news coverage of some of these fires, flames can be seen shooting out of the smart meter. SaskPower of Canada is the process of replacing 105,000 smart meters with non-smart meters because of fires. The total number of smart meters replaced in North America is over 370,000. Locally, MSMA knows of one case in Silver Spring, Maryland where the smart meter itself burned on the inside, although luckily that particular fire was caught before spreading to the house. While the utilities insist these meters are safe, the fact that almost all smart meter designs are not UL certified is disturbing. If the utilities are so convinced they are safe, why not have a legitimate independent electric safety organization like UL certify them as safe?
No Energy Savings
Smart meters do not save energy, smart people do. In order to conserve energy, people may choose to set their air conditioner in the summer to 75 instead of 70 degrees and to turn out lights that are not in use. Although the smart meter does take energy readings 24/7, what the utility does not disclose is that ratepayers do not have access to this information until 24 to 48 hours later. In addition, those who want access to this data must go on line to find it. For those without internet access, this data is totally useless. So although a smart meter is being presented as an energy-monitoring device, in point of fact, someone who has the time and inclination to micromanage his energy usage would do better to purchase an energy monitor for $40 to $150 that would give real time, easily accessible data. Even if smart meters were safe and did not invade our privacy, the home energy monitor would still be more cost effective and ultimately much better at saving energy than a smart meter.
So what is the real purpose of a smart meter? In order for a smart meter to save any energy, it must be used to alter our behavior. Without this, it is a worthless, high-tech device. The smart meter is the foundational infrastructure that will be used to alter our energy consumption. As of now, the only behavioral modifications that utilities in Maryland are permitted to use are incentives, like rebates, to encourage customers to conserve energy on very hot summer days. They will eventually employ some form of “time of use” (TOU) rates, which are already partially in place. However, if, down the road, utilities find that incentives or TOU rates are not enough to help them balance supply and demand, they may choose to take a more drastic step. With smart meters in place, utilities will be able to turn down or shut off any of our chipped appliances at will. For example, a woman in Germany could not get her ‘chipped’ washer to work. When she finally called her utility, she was informed that she had used her washer too many times that week. Of course, Maryland utilities are not currently doing this, and may not even have plans to do so in the immediate future. But the infrastructure will be in place for them to do as they please with virtually no regulations in place to protect ratepayers.8
There is another reason why utilities are pushing smart meters, and that is smart meters will make the utilities a great deal of money. Once the Public Service Commission allows the costs of the smart meters to be built into the rate base, the utilities will be able to charge all the ratepayers for the smart meters and in addition, reap about an 8% to 9% per year guaranteed return on the hundreds of millions of dollars invested in the smart meters as long as they are in the rate base. And when the meters get their software upgraded, they stand to make even more money. This will clearly generate a phenomenal economic benefit for the utilities.9
Smart Meters Linked to Skyrocketing Bills
Utilities claim that smart meters save rate payers money and reduce energy consumption. Yet study after study show that ratepayers are neither reducing energy consumption nor saving money. In fact, many customers with smart meters in Maryland and elsewhere are seeing their bills skyrocket. The Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) received over 300 complaints about billing issues alone in the first 11 months of 2013. Hundreds more were received in 2014. We see cases of bills doubling and tripling. Technologically, smart meters by themselves are more accurate than analog meters, and one small advantage for the utilities is that they capture some of the energy usage that analog meters miss. So when switching from an analog meter to a digital one, bills should be expected to go up, but only slightly. But skyrocketing bills demonstrate that there is something fundamentally wrong with the system as a whole, and the utilities are apparently not in any rush to figure out what the problem is. They will send someone out to see if the meter is working properly, and it always is. That’s because the meter itself is not the problem. The good news is that smart meters can still be replaced with a non-smart digital meter for free. If you switch back to a non-smart meter, your billed usage should return to normal levels.
Hackers are gaining access to smart meters. Pacific Gas and Electric admits that this is going on but will not admit to what extent. In addition to the kinds of ‘useful’ information about us mentioned earlier, hackers can also offload their energy use onto other people’s bills or even maliciously shut down your power. But the threats are far more sinister than that. These meters are assembled in two plants in North America, but the companies that produce them refuse to disclose where the components come from. Any search of the internet reveals that a great deal of these components are manufactured in China. But even if they are manufactured by our allies, nobody is making sure that people working for our enemies are not gaining access to the manufacturing plants and putting malware on the components. That could potentially give our enemies the power to shut down many of our smart meter-enabled power grids around the United States. And the number one power grid our enemies would want to disable is ours because it is the same one that serves Washington, DC. All it would take to turn Baltimore or Washington into a third world city is two or three weeks without electricity. It is instructive to remember what happened to the non-flooded portions of New Orleans in the wake of hurricane Katrina. And if anyone still has any remaining doubts about what can be accomplished with hacking, look what happened to Sony in December of 2014. Bruce Schneier, an expert in IT security, stated in a review in the Wall Street Journal on December 20, 2014, that a focused expert attack will always get past security. Former CIA Directly James Woolsey refers to the smart grid as the “really, really stupid grid.” Thus these smart meters are setting us up for disaster.
There is nothing smart about wireless smart meters. These meters are a threat to the health, safety, and privacy of every single individual living in those sections of Maryland serviced by BGE, Pepco, Delmarva Power & Light, and SMECO. They will not save the rate payers any money or reduce statewide energy use in any meaningful way. And finally, they are an open invitation to our enemies to shut down our power grids. We therefore urge everyone to exercise his or her right to opt out. We also urge all residents to support legislation in the Maryland legislature to protect our right to opt out. Just go to our website to learn how you can help: www.marylandsmartmeterawareness.org
For those of you who choose not to opt out, we strongly recommend keeping a log of any significant health changes to any members of your family. In addition, you should keep a log of any significant repairs to appliances as sometimes the utilities do cover the damages. Please note that effects may not be felt until the neighborhood mesh network goes “live.” The utilities will activate the mesh network once all the meters are in place. Please direct any questions to our website or to Jonathan Libber at 410-358-4616.
1 Jonathan Libber is currently president of Maryland Smart Meter Awareness. He is an attorney and has over thirty years of experience with the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s enforcement program.
2 Smart meters have gotten such a bad reputation that utilities refer to them instead as an ‘meter upgrade.’
3 Letter to Michigan Public Service Commission dated April 12, 2012, at page 1.
4 Letter to the California Public Utilities Commission dated January 19, 2012, at page 7.
5 In a Business Wire article of April 12, 2012, David Chalk, internationally recognized expert on hacking and cyber-security, stated that there is a 100% certainty that the entire wireless mesh grid will crash within the next three years.
6 See Letter of Jeremy M. McCoy, Assistant Attorney General, to Delegate Glen Glass, January 27, 2014.
7 Some utilities, BGE among them, claim their smart meters were certified by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). ANSI promulgates standards that other organizations, like UL apply. ANSI does not certify the safety of specific products.
8 This Orwellian view of the future may seem far-fetched unless the utilities have some statutory authority to control our appliances like that. But they probably will not need it as they will get us to relinquish control through financial incentives. If we allow them to control our appliances in a very hot day, they will give us a rebate for those days. BGE is already doing that in a sense right now for your air conditioning.
9 BGE claims that smart meters allow it to more efficiently respond to outages following a storm by pinging the smart meters. That is probably true for small storm events. But for major storm events, what limits the utilities in getting everyone back their electricity is the number of crews involved and the availability of spare parts. People are not shy about calling the utility when their power is out even for relatively short periods of time. So in a major storm event, the utilities will know where the outages are. They just cannot get to all of them so easily. A good example of this was the derecho that hit the Maryland and Washington areas in the summer of 2012. At that time, Pepco had virtually completed its installation of smart meters in Washington, DC. But it still took them 6 or 7 days to get everyone back their power.