Are SMUD smart meters a danger?

Jeff vonKaenel

Are SMUD smart meters a danger to our health? This question was angrily and emotionally debated for almost four hours during a recent public hearing.

Stop Smart Meters! Sacramento had requested the public hearing so opponents of the meters could make their case. And they packed the room. But first, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District Board of Directors heard from three national experts who explained that generating electricity creates greenhouse gases and air pollution. Increased air pollution has been shown to cause all sorts of health problems, including increased rates of asthma.

Because smart meters provide information about energy usage throughout the day, they allow SMUD to better manage the amount of electricity that needs to be generated. Smart meters will also give customers information about the cost of energy at different times of the day, which could encourage people to use less energy during peak hours. Less energy used during peak hours could eliminate the need to build new energy plants. Less energy used will reduce air pollution, and this will most likely reduce rates of asthma and other air-pollution-related illnesses.

The experts added that the radio frequencies given off by the smart meters are small compared to cellphones, laptops and microwave ovens.

After the experts had their say, it was time for the public testimony. The speakers were angry and upset. Smart meters were blamed for all sorts of medical problems, including headaches, nausea, bloody noses, sleeplessness and heart problems. Some speakers said that radio frequencies were everywhere, causing their problems. Others made the case that smart-meter frequencies were worse because they never turned off and you could not escape them.

If smart meters are so dangerous, why aren’t all 1.2 million SMUD customers having problems? Apparently, this is because certain people are more susceptible to radio frequencies. We then heard from some of those people.

“I was healthy until a smart meter was put onto my house.”

“Over the last several years, I have had to go to the hospital numerous times.”

“My wife has lost 30 pounds and is constantly ill since the smart meter was installed.”

I believe these people were totally sincere. But then, I’ve met people who sincerely think black cats crossing their path have brought them bad luck.

This put the SMUD board in a very awkward position. The board clearly believes that smart meters will help reduce energy usage, which will reduce air pollution and thus, improve health outcomes. Recently elected SMUD board member Michael Picker elegantly presented this case. Yet, at the same time, it was difficult to face a group who feels you are putting lives at risk with smart meters.

The final comprise was to let folks opt out of the smart-meter program by paying part of the cost of maintaining the more expensive standard meters.

I will say one thing about democracy: It is not dull.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.