The SmartMeter, Dianna Glidden decided, had to go.
Soon after she moved into her Santa Cruz home in September, she started feeling pressure in her head and buzzing under her skin. Glidden blamed her symptoms on transmissions from the property’s new wireless SmartMeter, which Pacific Gas and Electric Co. had installed shortly before she arrived.
PG&E refused to remove the meter, so Glidden hired an electrician to disconnect it and replace it with a more traditional, analog model.
In response, PG&E shut off her power.
The company has given Glidden a choice. She can have her electricity service back if she lets PG&E reinstall the SmartMeter. Or she can choose a new digital meter that doesn’t contain a transmitter. If she doesn’t agree to either option, her home will remain dark.
Glidden isn’t the only one. Fed up with a company they say is bullying them, some SmartMeter critics have had the devices removed, and seen their power cut as a result. According to PG&E, fewer than 20 people have disconnected their SmartMeters.
PG&E maintains that disconnecting SmartMeters is dangerous, and the company doesn’t want the idea to spread. Hence the decision to cut off power to people who do so.
“If this dangerous practice is allowed to continue without some sort of consequence, other people could do the same thing, and that’s what we’re trying to deter,” said company spokesman Jeff Smith.
Suspicious of meter
Glidden, a real estate agent, is suspicious of the nontransmitting digital meter, which PG&E offered two days after the company shut off her electricity.
She has heard from other people who say they are sensitive to radio-frequency radiation that a power-switching device within digital meters gives off harmful emissions, even if the devices lack a transmitter.
“I’m not an activist,” said Glidden, 59. “I really don’t want to be doing this. And you know what? The other people involved don’t want to be doing this.”
Most of her symptoms have disappeared since she removed the SmartMeter, she said. She won’t accept having another one installed.
“It’s really clear that we’re being bullied by PG&E,” she said.
PG&E, California’s largest utility, has faced a persistent rebellion over its $ 2.2 billion SmartMeter program, intended as a first step toward building a smarter and more resilient electricity grid.
While opposition at first focused on the meters’ accuracy, it has now turned into a battle in the larger fight over wireless technology and its possible effects on human health.
People convinced that wireless signals can cause debilitating headaches, insomnia, ringing in the ears and other symptoms have repeatedly asked state regulators to halt the SmartMeter program.
The notion that wireless technology can have such effects remains in deep dispute among researchers.
The California Public Utilities Commission in January will consider two “opt-out” alternatives for SmartMeter opponents.
Both would give PG&E customers the choice of receiving a new digital meter that does not transmit its data to the utility via wireless communication.
Both would also force customers to pay extra for that privilege, an idea that opponents liken to extortion. Neither alternative would let customers keep their old analog meters.
The people removing their SmartMeters say they’re frustrated with PG&E and the utilities commission alike.
“I called the CPUC, and it seems like they’re in bed with PG&E,” said Bianca Carn of Santa Cruz. She paid an electrician to remove her home’s new SmartMeter after her children started suffering headaches and nosebleeds soon after its installation.
The company cut her power on Tuesday, and her children are now sleeping at their grandmother’s home.
“They know they have the upper hand, because they’re a monopoly,” Carn, 45, said of PG&E. “If people think there are health effects, give them a choice. I don’t think that’s asking too much.”
The company initially insisted that it would restore service only if those customers agreed to have another SmartMeter installed.
But after news of the shutoffs appeared in the Santa Cruz Sentinel and on local television stations, the company decided to offer the option of a digital, nontransmitting meter as well.
Several customers have accepted that offer, according to the company. Others remain undecided.
This article appeared on page D – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle