In Alamo Heights, Some Fear of Smart Meters

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Alamo Heights resident Marcia Weser voices concerns about CPS Energy's new smart meters. Photo by Katherine Nickas.

Alamo Heights resident Marcia Weser voices concerns about CPS Energy's new smart meters. Photo by Katherine Nickas.

Two months after CPS Energy presented plans to install smart meters in Alamo Heights, the City Council there heard from more than a dozen residents express concerns about health and safety risks.

Alamo Heights Mayor Louis Cooper, apparently anticipating the group's fears, announced at the start of the meeting that the Council will send a letter to CPS Energy requesting a one year delay in smart meter installations while city officials evaluate citizen concerns.

The Alamo Heights residents in attendance voiced various concerns about the smart meters, fearing they might cause cancer, emit dangerous electromagnetic radiation, and cause fires. Such fears are not supported by any evidence or scientific data, and there is no indication the small group at Monday's meeting represents a larger body of concerned citizens in the community.

“CPS Energy is using the bully pulpit to force us to accept something we don’t want,” said Susan Straus, adding that she has spent more than 300 hours conducting research on the meters since July when she learned they were coming to Alamo Heights. “CPS is letting me use their Smart Meter at my own risk.

“The grid is exposing people to cumulative radio frequency radiation, and also not complying with building codes,” she added. “CPS cannot provide a study saying the smart meter is safe.”

Frequencies are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission and have been deemed safe in dozens of medical studies, including a 2014 report by the Electric Power Research Institute commissioned by CPS Energy and a 2011 report by the California Council on Science and Technology. Smart meters use radio frequencies just like cell phones, televisions, wireless Internet and such mundane devices as garage door openers.

A concerned mother spoke to fellow Alamo Heights residents and City Council about CPS Smart Meters and their potential health effects. Photo by Katherine Nickas.

A concerned mother spoke to fellow Alamo Heights residents and City Council about CPS Smart Meters and their potential health effects. Photo by Katherine Nickas.

"According to the World Health Organization, if you used your cellphone for 15 minutes a day for one year that would be equivalent to the radiation associated with a smart meter that you would be exposed to for 375 years," said Raiford Smith, vice president of Corporate Development for CPS Energy.

Despite several public informational meetings, some residents said they were not aware CPS Energy was installing the meters and that they were not given the choice of opting out of the company’s Smart Grid Program.

“Customers do have the opportunity to opt out of this program. When they’re notified they’re on the list, they can send in a postcard to give them a chance to opt out before the meter is installed,” Smith said.

For those who do opt out, there is a one-time fee is to install an Offsite Meter Read meter, and a $20 monthly reading fee each time CPS Energy has to dispatch a meter reader to the residence. Low income customers can apply for a reduced rate. Residents don’t have to pay the one-time fee to opt out if they notify CPS Energy before the smart meter is installed.

CPS energy opt out smart meter fee graph

Many residents lamented the disappearance of traditional analog meters, saying CPS should provide them the option of retaining an analog meter.

“Our property is about 50 years old – we can not opt out of the Smart Meter program,” said Nancy Woodard, property manager of Les Chateaux Townhomes Association, Inc. “We must have studies done on these meters before they’re implemented. I’m concerned they could have a serious effect on some of our residents.”

The members of the Alamo Heights City Council heard from concerned Alamo Heights residents about CPS Energy Smart Meters. Pictured counterclockwise from front: Councilmember Billa Burke, Councilmember John Savage, Councilmember Bobby Hasslocher, Mayor Louis Cooper, Councilmember Fred Prassel, and Councilmember Bobby Rosenthal.

The members of the Alamo Heights City Council heard from concerned Alamo Heights residents about CPS Energy Smart Meters. Pictured counterclockwise from front: Councilmember Linda Billa Burke, Councilmember John Savage, Councilmember Bobby Hasslocher, Mayor Louis Cooper, Councilmember Fred Prassel, and Councilmember Bobby Rosenthal. Photo by Katherine Nickas.

CPS Energy launched a pilot program in 2013 that placed 40,000 of the smart meters in service without incident. The energy utility is now moving forward with a service-wide rollout of 740,000 electric and 360,000 gas advanced meters with supporting infrastructure as part of its Smart Grid Initiative. The first phase of installations began in August.

The $290 million Smart Grid Initiative aims to save energy and money for both the user and the utility.  The new Landis + Gyr smart meters, installed by sub-contractor Corix, are equipped with advanced measuring features, remote disconnect and reconnect capabilities, and two-way communication networks that will allow customers to track their energy use through an online portal as early as next year.

Customers eventually will be able to opt in to programs or install technology that allows them to communicate with programmable devices, from air conditioners to dishwashers, through a Home Area Network (HAN) module to monitor and control electricity consumption. "Smart thermostats" are already available now through the CPS Energy Savers program.

Alamo Heights Mayor Louis Cooper tells citizens that a letter will be sent to CPS Energy requesting a 12-month delay of installation of the smart meters.

Alamo Heights Mayor Louis Cooper (left, center) tells citizens that a letter will be sent to CPS Energy requesting a 12-month delay of installation of the smart meters. Photo by Katherine Nickas.

Faulty installation of smart meters did lead to fires and a recall of some of the devices, though not those in use in San Antonio. A certain model of Sensus smart meters installed between 2010-2012 caused several fires in Portland. Canadian utilities had similar problems this summer. Hundreds of thousands of smart meters have been recalled, but CPS Energy and installation contractor representatives have said that Landis + Gyr meters have not caused fires and will be installed carefully. Technicians also will be on the lookout for aging base connections in older homes, and where they are found, upgrade them at no expense to the homeowner.

Customers will be notified 30 days before installation, and contacted again by telephone one week prior to installation. Smart meter installation for CPS Energy customers within the program area, save for those that opt out of the program, is expected to be completed by the end of 2018 (see map below).

Smart meter installation map courtesy of CPS Energy.

Smart meter installation map courtesy of CPS Energy.

*Featured/top image: Alamo Heights resident Marcia Weser voices concerns about CPS Energy's new smart meters. Photo by Katherine Nickas.

Full disclosure: The Arsenal Group LLC, which publishes the Rivard Report provided consulting services to CPS Energy in 2012. Monika Maeckle, who co-founded the Rivard Report, worked for CPS Energy as director of integrated communications and has now returned to consulting.

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CPS Energy Solar Fee Debate Continues 

CPS Energy Confident in Compliance with New Carbon Emission Rule

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CPS Energy's Big Picture: Weaning San Antonio Off Fossil Fuels

30 thoughts on “In Alamo Heights, Some Fear of Smart Meters

  1. There was an article recently over at the Atlantic that talked about how some of LA’s wealthiest neighborhoods have vaccination rates on par with third world countries. This article kinda reminds me of that instance of fear of science in a wealthy community.

  2. I am disappointed that my apparently educated neighbors have bought into this fear-mongering.
    So all of us have to wait an extra year because a few people don’t understand science?

    • It is you who doesn’t understand science, or at the very least, haven’t availed yourself of the thousands of peer-reviewed scientific studies proving harm form chronic low-level microwave radiation such as that emitted 24/7 from “smart” meters. Adverse health effects include: memory loss, sleep disorders and insomnia, decrease in REM sleep, slowed motor skills and reaction time in school children, altered white blood cell activity in school children, spatial disorientation, headaches, blood brain barrier changes allowing leakage into/out of the brain, impaired nervous system activity, loss of concentration and “fuzzy thinking,” decreased immune function, lower sperm count, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, change in the brain’s electrical activity, DNA damage (genetic damage) and changes in DNA repair capacity, and cell proliferation.

      Lennart Hardell (Scientist on WHO (IARC) panel that classified radio frequency radiation as a carcinogen) now strongly recommends that radio frequency radiation be moved from Group 2B to Group 1 (KNOWN human carcinogen.) Why would anyone want a device on their house that the top scientists in the world have proven to emit a KNOWN CARCINOGEN? You’d have to be completely out of your mind. Why would governments be mandating KNOWN CARCINOGEN emitting devices on people’s homes. Has the world gone completely insane?

  3. I am disappointed that my apparently educated neighbors have bought into this fear-mongering.
    So all of us have to wait an extra year because a few people don’t understand science?

    • It’s not “fear mongering.” It’s legitimate opposition to the forced installation of a dangerous device with proven negative health effects. Please educate yourself before assuming you know the whole story.

  4. “Smart meters are intended to allow the electric utility to charge different rates for electricity at different times of day.” They WILL cause your electric bill to increase.

    Any mention of these little tidbits of info by CPS?

    • Hi Kevin,

      CPS Energy rep here.

      Smart meters will allow for time of use pricing, but CPS Energy doesn’t offer it yet, and has said that if they do in the future, it would be a voluntary program you would sign up for, like Smart Thermostat.

      Time of use means that when power costs CPS Energy more, it costs the customer more — but programs that work with smart meters (the meter itself just measures how much power you use) can let you know the cheapest times to run your dishwasher, plug in your EV, etc etc.

        • Hi Sarah,

          Responded at TPR.org but will here too. Lisa is correct. CPS Energy does currently have a time of use tariff, but doesn’t promote it and almost no one uses it. I think maybe two customers. The issue is, until customers can monitor their energy use, it doesn’t really make sense to sign up for time of use pricing.

          Once smart meters are deployed and the energy dashboard is available, customers will be able monitor the energy they’re buying in almost real time (day behind), and so could sign up for time of use pricing then make decisions about when to run the washer, plug in their EV or where to set the thermostat to save money. Hope that helps.

  5. It’s going to happen eventually, so lets get it over and done with. Anytime there is a delay, it just costs more.

    • Why should we submit to corporatism run rampant and lose our privacy and our health for the profit of a few corporations? It will cost much more in maintance of the cheap plastic meters replacing the robust 50-year lifespan analog meters with the ironically named “smart” meters, and it will cost much more in cumulative health effects. That’s not how democracy is supposed to work.

  6. My home was in the area for the pilot program so I’ve had a smart meter for more than a year. I have nothing but positive things to say about it. Fear-mongering indeed.

    • Instead of drinking the CPS Kool-aid, people would be wise to do a little research on their own. Even a superficial investigation beyond the CPS PR BS could yield some very troubling results.

      We need to ask ourselves why CPS Energy is spending $290 million to install “Spark” meters in order to save the $2 million a year it will save by dumping all its meter readers. Does that seem like a sound business decision to you?

    • I suppose if you smoked cigarettes for 10 years and didn’t get cancer, you’d be advocating that everybody start smoking as well?

  7. Google Landis Gyr and fire… We told CPS so why do they report otherwise. The science is still out on RFR dangers. No one has run tests on the amount of emission from a block of meters chirping 24/7. We never opted in so how are we opting out? ‘Smart meters don’t save electricity. Smart meters are a convenient way to control supply. Therefore CPS can control the delivery of electricity and the price. Duh

  8. Good for the wise people of Alamo Heights for standing up for their community’s health and safety. This biased article could have been written by CPS’s propaganda department. The author, Ms. Nickas, turned a blind eye to the thousands of published studies showing health problems .

    This statement, “Such fears (of fires and health problems) are not supported by any evidence or scientific data” is just plain false. For the record, the World Health Organization has stated that the type of radiation from smart meters (and cell phones and other wireless technologies) MAY CAUSE CANCER. This is based on cell phone brain tumor studies but applies to all sources of RF microwave radiation.

    Link (pdf): http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/2011/pdfs/pr208_E.pdf

    Hundreds of thousands of smart meters have been recalled because they set homes on fire. Nevada Fire Marshal in the last few days has called for a state investigation into smart meter fire risks:

    http://www.rgj.com/story/news/2014/09/22/rgj-investigates-nevada-regulators-launch-inquiry-smart-meters/16085113/

    Folks, these meters are dangerous and you have the right to reject them if you consider them a threat to your property or health. Don’t listen to the utilities which have $$$ to make and are spreading false information, helped along by unsavory and compromised publications such as the Rivard Report.

    Think for yourself, visit StopSmartMeters.Org and join the movement!

  9. One other tidbit that does not get published. CPS has zero liability if something goes wrong. With two weeks of training for installers, hmm……not all of us are educated, but we are trying to get the facts.

  10. I had CPS install a smart meter at my residence over a year ago. It has enabled me to not only monitor my electrical usage down to an hourly basis but has saved me about 20% on average with my utility bill. I can remotely program my thermostats from my smartphone. I have researched the concerns expressed by a few citizens in our community including fire hazard, health dangers, and ability for the meters to monitor the wireless communications generated by our wireless networks.

    I have found no substantive evidence to cause me to reverse my decision to have a smart meter.

    • If you haven’t found any substantive evidence, clearly you’re not looking in the right places. Try the BioInitiative Report 2012, for thousands of peer-reviewed studies showing harm form chronic low-level microwave radiation.

  11. Forget the wifi, cell phone, TV, microwave, remote garage door opener, and whatever other RF emitting stuff you have in your house and on your person, the one thing that is going to cause cancer is also the one thing that could also provide the financial pressure to encourage you to save energy. The alternative is put your head back in the sand and keep pretending the ever-increasing demand for energy doesn’t mean a new power plant at some point, which of course you don’t want either because:

    1. Nuclear energy is dangerous and dirty
    2. Coal is dirty
    3. Natural gas may be clean to burn, but is dirty to produce
    4. Renewable energy is ridiculous because it’s more expensive than energy from fossil fuels, and we know the supply of fossil fuels is infinite

    In the meantime, I’ll take every trip by car ignoring the fact that the automobile has proven to be our nation’s greatest health risk, either through accidents or sedentary lifestyle. No doubt we’d all be safer and healthier by getting rid of cars in the city, walking or using transit, and slapping a smart meter on every building in the city.

    The argument thrown out may be health and safety, but the real interest is defeating demand-based pricing. It’s funny how we are all about capitalism, unless it means those supplying our energy increase prices based on demand.

    • Kilo, we don’t need smart meters to save on energy. You use less of it, then you are saving. That can be accomplished with your analog meters.
      As for all our RFR gadgets and appliances…we have a choice to use those, but not with digital meters. The analog meter is being taken away.
      You will support the smart grid. You will give up your individual power for the good of the utilities. By the way, all those glowing reports about safety of smart meters come from EPRI which is paid for by utility companies. Look it up

  12. I don’t think this is about demand based pricing- it’s about supply based pricing. Utilities will control the supply with the ‘smartmeter’ and control demand with peak pricing. There is govt stimulus to install the smart meter grid. Eventually Texas electric grid will be integrated into the rest of the nation’s grid. Privacy is already compromised. Our health is too. So let’s just roll over for CPS and let them exercise their monopoly.

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