A report on PG&E’s SmartMeters that was requested by a Marin County legislator and released Tuesday found that radiation from the devices is within government guidelines, but that the devices could possibly have other harmful effects.
The report by the California Council on Science and Technology was requested by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, in July amid concerns from residents that the wireless devices were causing health issues such as headaches, nausea and trouble sleeping.
The debate has continued recently, particularly in the North Bay, where protestors have been arrested twice in the past two weeks for opposing the installation of SmartMeters.
The most recent incident occurred on Tuesday morning when two women were arrested outside a warehouse in Rohnert Park.
The meters collect information on electricity and natural gas usage from homes and businesses and transmit the data remotely to a wireless communication network.
The report issued Tuesday did not include any new research on SmartMeters but surveyed more than 100 other studies on the subject.
It found that there has been no proof that radiation from the meters is worse than from other household items, and that it is dwarfed by the radiation from items such as cell phones and microwave ovens.
The thermal impact of radio frequency emissions from a cell phone pressed to someone’s ear, for instance, were found to be more than 400 times more harmful than a SmartMeter that is always on and three feet away, according to the report.
However, the report acknowledged that “not enough is currently known about potential non-thermal impacts” of the emissions to conclusively say that they pose no serious threat.
The report concluded that the Federal Communications Commission guidelines for the SmartMeters are adequate, but that more studies should be done on the devices, and that wired meters could be offered as an alternative to concerned customers.
PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno said today, “We’re hopeful that the fact-based report helps alleviate concerns that some customers have had about radio frequency and SmartMeters.”
Moreno said that the report “does provide a credible measure of assurance that SmartMeters…do not pose a serious risk of harm from thermal effects.”
He said the utility is still evaluating options, including the use of some wired meters, to address customers’ concerns.
Opponents of the SmartMeter program, including environmental consultant Cindy Sage, criticized the report.
“Comparing wireless meters to other wireless devices that are voluntary, and which many people choose not to use, is not a fair comparison to government-mandated meters that expose people in their homes 24 hours a day,” Sage said in a statement.
Joshua Hart of Stop Smart Meters, a statewide group that opposes the program, added that PG&E’s customers should not “be the experiment” in the use of technology that may be harmful, but acknowledged that the possibility of wired meters was “a small step in the right direction.”
Huffman also released a statement on the report, acknowledging that it “does not conclusively resolve” the debate over the devices.
He encouraged PG&E to give further consideration to the option of wired meters. In December, Huffman introduced legislation, AB 37, that would direct the California Public Utilities Commission to determine alternatives for customers who do not want the wireless meters.
“The benefits of smart meters and a smart grid do not require wireless technology, and consideration should be given to providing alternative hard-wired meters for consumers who continue to be concerned about potential health risks,” he said.
PG&E expects to complete deployment of its SmartMeters to all customers by mid-2012.
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News