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Fairfax Tries to Ban Smart Meters

Can cities draft laws to ban the installation of smart meters? Well, it’s up for debate in Fairfax, Calif., where last week the city council approved the decision to create a law to stop utility PG&E (s PCG) from installing smart meters and the wireless antennas that transmit electricity data back to the utility’s office. Remember that Fairfax is also one of the towns behind Marin Clean Energy project, a clean power electricity program that would provide an alternative for PG&E, and which PG&E reportedly spent $46 million trying to block via the recently-defeated Prop 16.

According to Fairfax city council’s notes of the meeting last week, the council “agreed to have staff bring back a draft ordinance at the next meeting banning the installation of Smart Meters in Fairfax.” The Fairfax council also said it plans to piggy-back the request from San Francisco’s City Attorney Dennis Herrera to California’s energy regulators the CPUC that would stop PG&E from installing any more smart meters until a third-party investigation into the accuracy of the meters has been completed.

A PG&E spokesperson tells the Contra Costa Times that PG&E doesn’t have to seek permits for installing smart meters and that the city council doesn’t have the authority to implement a ban, only the CPUC can make that ruling.

As I wrote about the San Francisco City Attorney’s request back in June, I’m surprised that these calls for smart meter moratoriums are still going on. PG&E publicly apologized in May acknowledging its poor customer relations, and released a massive report on the smart meter project, including the fact that 99 percent of the digital smart meters have had no problems, while 3 percent of analog meters have proved to have inconsistencies. However, 1 percent of a total planned 5 million smart meters installed from PG&E could result in 50,000 customers being impacted.

If you haven’t been following the backlash in select locations over smart meters, basically a handful of customers have been complaining that recently installed smart meters are responsible for unfair higher bills. The consternation has even resulted in a lawsuit in Bakersfield (PG&E’s territory) as well as one in Dallas (Oncor’s territory). While specific tech problems can easily be dealt with, the greater issue is a lack of customer outreach and an inability of utilities to adequately explain the benefits of smart meters to customers.

In Fairfax, the city council’s complaints are a couple steps even beyond these previously raised issues (and in my opinion borderline tin foil hat society). Beyond the accuracy of the meters, the Fairfax city council is worried that the radio signals could be a health hazard and that smart meters would put meter readers out of a job. The main issue (to me) seems to be that Fairfax and PG&E have a very contentious relationship.

For more information on smart meter consumer programs, check out GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

Making Smart Meters the Must-Have Gadget of the Year

9 Responses to “Fairfax Tries to Ban Smart Meters”

  1. Wow, lots of emotions in these comments. IMO, opposing smart meters is like opposing cell phones. They are inevitable. The benefits far outweigh any concerns at this point of time. And the technology will only get better. Those who oppose smart meters are choosing the losing side. They might win a few temporary battles in the short term, but they will lose the war. For these reasons, Katie is absolutely right in her stance.

  2. follow-up to Katie F. — I apologize for the violent wording of my initial response to your article — that was not good enough — my anger is in response to MANY Smart Meter articles in the press that are casually, or more damningly, dismissing the public health issues around electromagnetic radiation. From the research I have done, I think these are very serious issues, and I would like to see a more accurate reflection in the press, so that the public can be properly educated about it, and demand protection. So much life is at stake here — including vulnerable populations, wild life and plant life (many studies have been done). We cannot look to the overseeing agencies for protection, the way America is currently set up. Corporations and the bottom line are ruling the roost. In this situation, I urge the press to provide a more accurate picture for their public. I am sorry for the violence of my initial response.

  3. Sierra

    You need to get educated Katie F. You remind me of one of the good old folks who offer to drink a cup of DDT, or perhaps Rosanne Rosannadanna. Stupid meters are a bad idea in many ways, and electromagnetic radiation is only one of them. There are also security issues, hackers accessing the system as well as thieves being able to know if someone is home or away, Loss of jobs in this economy, and yes they may be offered other jobs, but the workforce is being cut back, as profits soar, dubious accuracy and charges, and more. Any one of these should cause concern, and not some idiotic minimizing put down. It is about profits, power, and control. Do you really trust Corporate America to have anything at heart besides their bottom line? Prudence dictates caution and moving slow. Better that than, Oops. Many of us refuse to be guniea pigs. There are better thought out ways to implement tracking energy usage which do not entail more electrosmog. Ignorance of the laws of nature or the ability to live within them will not prolong life or health.

  4. To Katie Fehrenbacher:


    You might educate yourself BEFORE making bold public statements!!!!!

    Please read one of the multitude of books and 1000s upon 1000s of studies about the health effects of electromagnetic radiation! Here’s one you might try, “Public Health SOS: The Shadow Side of the Wireless Revolution” by Camilla Rees and Magda Havas, citing the research and peer-reviewed studies of many, many scientists.

    I have Electrical Hypersensitivity (EHS) — the new blanket of electrosmog created by the Smart Meters in the East Bay has made my life a living hell. I am desperately searching for some place to move to. My health declined very rapidly, with the very rapid rise of wireless technologies in the late 90’s. I know many, many acquaintances who also have EHS. It affects 3-8% of the population, and the number is growing. 35% of the population is moderately sensitive. The clearest correlation between the exponential rise in Autism in America is the exponential rise in electrosmog — studies have been done showing a tremendously significant correlation between how electropolluted the pregnant mother’s bed was, and the autism of her child.

    Please educate yourself before making such bold, public comments. You are grossly ignorant and irresponsible. I am deeply outraged by your article.


  5. “the Fairfax city council is worried that the radio signals could be a health hazard… “

    You’ve got to be kidding!! That is the most idiotic thing I have ever heard! Worried about radio signals! Then they ought to be worried about all of those pesky cell phones emitting radio signals also. How about banning radio and TV while they are at it…

  6. José Antonio Vanderhorst-Silverio, Ph.D.

    Hi Katie,

    In a very long dialogue in the Smart Grid Executive Forum (SGEF) in LinkedIn, which I have seen as a generative dialogue, the issues of the smart grid have gone well beyond those of smart meters and into the discovery of a lack of a transformation effort which has considered the customer as an unforgiving afterthought. Customers should have the full right to choose whether a smart meter or any other gadget is needed in accordance with the Technology Adoption Life Cycle. As you can see next, state regulators need new mandates that transform the power industry to the emerging world.

    Phil Carson, in his Intelligent Utility article Who ‘Believes’ In Smart Grid? ( ), first reported about the SGEF LinkedIn dialogue to the general public and got me interested in the story. After adding three posts to that LinkedIn dialogue, I followed Phil’s lead and posted the EWPC article Initiating the Smart Grid Transformation Part 1 ( ), Part 2 ( ) and Part 3 ( ).

    The valuable dialogue that followed on the SGEF since then, led me to write the EWPC article A Strong IEEE Coalition Might be Required to Start Transforming the Power Industry Part 1 ( ), Part 2 ( ), Part 3 ( ), Part 4 ( ), Part 5 ( ) and Part 6 ( ).

    Best regards,

    José Antonio