Debate Over California Smart Meters Continues

Published May 31, 2016

The installation of wireless “smart meters” for the monitoring of household gas, water, and electricity consumption continues to draw fire from activist groups in California. A recent salvo against the practice was lobbed by a consulting firm’s study alleging electromagnetic frequencies emitted by the meters exceed Federal Communications Commission safety limits.  

Smart meters enable two-way communication between households and utility companies. The meters report utility consumption every hour, enabling the utility company to measure household use, identify peak-use periods, and set pricing accordingly.

California regulators approved the use of smart meters in 2006.  Nations such as Italy, Canada, Japan, Australia, and the United Kingdom have also implemented smart meter programs.

‘Documented Biological Impacts’

A study released January 1, 2011, by the environmental consulting firm Sage and Associates asserts wireless smart meters being installed by Pacific Gas & Electric and other utilities in California are likely to violate FCC safety limits.

“The risk to the public is immense,” said Joshua Hart, director of Stop Smart Meters, a statewide California activist group. “We are essentially running a giant experiment on a largely unaware population. The bottom line is that the limits that the Federal Communications Commission sets for wireless technology is [sic] many orders of magnitude too high,” he said.

“People are getting hurt by exposure to wireless radiation,” Hart continued. “There is no question about that. There are documented biological impacts from levels of microwaves far below what the smart meter emits. We’re talking DNA breaks, pathological leakage of the blood-brain barrier, and cancer,” he said.

‘Well-Below FCC Limits’

Dr. Rob Kavet, a scientist at the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, California, challenges Hart’s assertions as scientifically inaccurate. Radio frequency safety standards and guidelines—including the radio-frequency exposure rule published by the FCC—are based on comprehensive reviews of the scientific literature, he said.

“This literature includes research conducted both above and below thresholds of established effects. These effects result from the heating of tissue, and are often referred to as thermal effects.”  

Kavet said the consensus of the vast majority of scientific reviews has not identified biological or health effects that could be attributed to non-thermal mechanisms.

Kavet cited a peer-reviewed study published by EPRI in November 2010 which indicated exposures from smart meters are well below FCC limits. In addition, he said, the study establishes the FCC’s limits already “incorporate a 50-fold safety factor from the threshold for established effects.”

Tabassum Rahmani ([email protected]) writes from Dublin, California.

On the Internet

“Radio-Frequency Exposure Levels from Smart Meters,” Electric Power Research Institute, Palo Alto, California, November 2010:

“Assessment of Radiofrequency Microwave Radiation Emissions from Smart Meters,” Sage Associates Environmental Consultants, Santa Barbara, California, January 1, 2011;