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Rowdy audience decries smart meter myths

Official notes that cities are powerless to ban the devices.

November 18, 2011|By Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com

Glendale officials tried to debunk what they called smart meter myths for an audience of about 70 people Thursday night, though many in the audience were antagonistic and rowdy during the presentation.

The tough crowd was to be expected, officials said, given the steadfast pushback from a group of residents in Burbank and Glendale who maintain the meters are bad for health and privacy — opinions utilities insist are based on myth and misinformation.

In an attempt to address those concerns, Glendale Water & Power presented a panel of experts, including Jim Schoedler, a radiofrequency technology consultant. Schoedler said that not only are smart meters well within federal safeguards, they emit less radiofrequency waves than cell phones and microwaves.

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And utility officials say customers can use as little, or as much, of the real-time consumption data gathered and transmitted by the meters as they want.

But for many in crowd, the meeting was a chance to vent more than to learn.

As Glendale Water & Power General Manager Glenn Steiger explained that the utility is not alone in installing digital meters that can transmit energy use in real-time — almost 20 million of them have been installed nationwide — opponents started to grumble. One became so loud that officials had to ask her to leave the Glendale Community College student center.

About a half-dozen protesters held signs that read “Say No to Smart Meters” as at least five community college police officers monitored the event.

Steiger said smart meters were installed to prepare Glendale for the future and to encourage people to change their behaviors when it comes to energy and water use.

Following calls to take out the meters, officials had two responses: individuals don’t own meters, utility companies do; and although some cities have ruled against them, municipal bans carry little weight.

“Those cities don’t have jurisdiction,” said Marzia Zafar, spokeswoman for the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates investor-owned utilities.

Any ban on smart meters would have to come from the state legislature, which for years has largely been in favor of smart grid technology, she added.

Of the 120,000 smart meters installed in Glendale, about 70 customers have been put on a delay list. A handful have had the meters removed because they were installed mistakenly at sites on the delay list.

Glendale officials are waiting for the California Public Utilities Commission to rule on an opt-out policy before asking the City Council to craft a local policy.

Steiger said the delay list was not advertised because the utility never anticipated having an opt out option. While a minority of customers oppose the meters, he said, Glendale Water & Power’s mission is to meet the needs of the greater population.

Despite the myth busting, some opponents at the meeting said they remained dissatisfied. Several applauded after resident Linda Fitzgerald said she was still skeptical of the health impacts.

“There is nothing that you technocrats have said tonight that [would make me believe] this wouldn’t be affecting me,” she said.
 
 

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