Marin County Votes to Ban Smart Meters

Published February 7, 2011

Marin County, California has voted to ban the installation of “smart” electricity meters, claiming the devices pose electromagnetic health risks that create a public nuisance. The Marin County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to impose a one-year moratorium on smart-meter installation in unincorporated areas of the county.

“The citizens were adamant that something be done to help them communicate their concerns,” said County Supervisor Charles McGlashan.

Only Symbolic
Smart meters allow electric companies to monitor electricity use remotely on an hour-by-hour basis. This allows the electric company to more efficiently match production with real-time demand and set electricity prices that respond to demand patterns. Power companies and some environmental groups have long been intrigued by the potential for smart meters to induce people to use less power during peak demand hours.

Nevertheless, the Marin County Board vote reflected some environmental activist opposition to smart meters supported and installed by Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E). While highly symbolic, the vote will not carry any legal weight.

“The state preempted local governments in approving installation of the smart meters,” McGlashan said.

Authority over smart meter installation lies with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC); CPUC alone holds the power to suspend or cancel PG&E installation programs. Last year, the city and county of San Francisco requested PG&E’s smart meter installation program be suspended. CPUC denied the request as noted in a December 16 press release by the commission.

Concerns Raised
Some opponents of smart meter use allege the meters do not reliably record and transmit electricity usage data. CPUC’s approval of smart meters, however, was supported by an independent study conducted by the Structure Group, which found PG&E smart meters are accurately recording electric usage and correctly processing dates and billing usage.

Opponents also claim smart meters endanger human health through their radio transmission of data.

“We understand that some of our customers have concerns related to the radio frequency from smart meters,” PG&E External Communications Manager Jim Smith said.  However, “the great weight of scientific evidence does demonstrate RF from smart meters is safe,” Smith said.

McGlashan said the Marin County Board of Supervisors is willing to discuss compromises and would support, “the provision of wired meters that do not pose the potential risks for those with EMF (electromagnetic fields) sensitivity.”

Still on Schedule
In 2010, PG&E hosted approximately 35 open houses in Marin County to discuss the smart meter program with customers and local government officials.

“One of the things we wanted to make sure we did is that we built in time to have this type of interaction with our customers and answer their questions prior to the deployment of smart meters in their particular area,” stated Smith. 

“At this point in time, continuing with the program will allow all of our customers to enjoy some of the many benefits of smart meters,” Smith added.

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.