Smart Grid

December 05, 2012

Many Nevadans Refuse to Take a Gamble on Smart Meters

After years of pushback and public hearings, Nevada residents may finally be getting what they want—their legacy, analog electric meters.

The Nevada Bureau of Consumer Protection stepped in on December 3rd to ask for a stay of an order by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) that would have enabled the local utility to replace the home meters of customers who wished to opt-out of a statewide smart meter deployment with other digital devices.

Nevada Energy (NVE) had proposed the new digital meters as the best alternative to either legacy analog meters or smart meters, because the older equipment was too “outmoded” and “inaccurate,” according to the utility. The PUC had approved a $98.75 one-time charge and a $9 monthly fee for ratepayers who did not want the smart meter on their premises.

The Consumer Protection Bureau said in its request for a stay that it wants the commission to take another look at allowing ratepayers to keep their current analog meters and at the pricing structure that would follow.

No Choice, No Notice

Believe it or not, giving customers a choice between smart meters and other digital meters–even if the legacy meters are no longer on the table–would represent a major concession, compared to how the original rollout was supposed progress.

Back in July 2010, the Public Utilities Commission approved $300 million in funding for a grid update involving statewide deployment of smart meters. It was only after Nevada Energy (NVE), a Las Vegas-based public utility that serves about 1.5 million customers, had installed 600,000 of the next-generation meters—and received thousands of complaints—that the PUC decided to give ratepayers the chance for input.

In fact, the smart meters had been installed without the consent of the utility’s customers. Notices had been sent out only after the installations had been completed.

At a public hearing in February of this year, Nevada Energy claimed that smart meters would save the utility $35 million in operating costs per year. Customers countered that their health and quality of life would suffer; they feared that data could be captured by hackers standing outside homes and sold to the highest bidder; and they worried that their electricity bills would be inaccurate and probably too high. Some were angry because there had been no original formal method of “opting out.” Others claimed that the utility company did not inform them of the existence of a list of postponement.

On the heath issue, NVE assured customers that smart meters were “safer than cell phones,” and that smart meters exceeded Federal Communications Commission (FCC (News - Alert)) standards and were within limits for Class B devices.

The Washington, DC based advocacy group for retirees, AARP, testified that it was particularly concerned by “dynamic pricing,” which encourages customers to reduce their own costs by cutting back on power. The association said it believed that this feature would not remain voluntary and was impractical—particularly during hot summers, for seniors and small children, when turning off air conditioning was not an option.

A grassroots advocacy group formed in 2010, and growing worldwide, called Stop Smart Meters, commented, “The ‘smart’ grid is the dystopian future happening right now. Communities organizing and refusing to tolerate these monstrosities in their neighborhoods— by whatever means necessary—is what is going to stop this.”

A doctor testified on behalf of PUC in reference to customers’ health complaints about electro- magnetic radiation and radio frequency exposure. The doctor dismissed their complaints “as unlikely to be caused by smart meters.”

Headaches, High Blood Pressure, and Hair Loss

However, the story of Morna Orkoulas, a woman who lived outside Las Vegas and had received a smart meter in January 2012 without her own permission, was typical of those who believed that their health had been impaired by the new equipment.

Orkoulas told Stop Smart Meters that, although she had no prior history of medical issues, shortly after NVE installed a smart meter on her bedroom wall, she began noticing an increase in her heart rate first thing in the morning and an elevated blood pressure. She felt fatigued and experienced headaches. A low grinding sound emitted by the meter made it difficult to fall asleep, or even to stay home during the day.

She tried different things to get rid of the symptoms, but nothing worked. Finally she realized that the only thing that had changed in her life was the meter. When she started researching the issue, she realized she was not alone. Others were experiencing the same annoying humming grinding sound and the same adverse health impacts—and linking it to recent smart meter installations.

In addition, others had experienced unusual symptoms such as hair loss, or their pets had died, or they believed that terrorists could hack in and cut the power to their region through their smart meters.

Orkoulas visited her medical practitioner, who agreed with her. He sent a letter to NVE that outlines the situation and recommends a solution: “Neurological and cardiological findings may be associated with pulsed EMF… EEG, ECG, MRI and sleep study changes may be associated in some hypersensitive individuals to pulsed EMF. If multiple smart meters are in use in her area, the possibility of constructive and destructive interference between the various EMF signals is a distinct possibility, whose effects may be potentially more dangerous. I recommend that this patient be allowed to have NVE reinstall an analog meter at her house.”

Next Steps

NV Energy officials have said in regulatory filings that the opt-out charges reflect the costs — including labor, supplies and customer support — of providing the “non-standard” option, instead of the smart meters. Some 9,000 customers statewide do not want smart meters, according to the utility.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, NV Energy officials commented that they will suspend further action on opt-outs until the commission resolves the matter. The Bureau of Consumer Protection has until December 11 to file its petition. The commission then will have 45 days to hear the case

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Edited by Brooke Neuman