By The Cranky Housewife -
It looks like Naperville, Illinois has just become the epicenter for an ongoing tug-of-war over Smart Meters. ComEd and environmental groups are pushing for the implementation of the Smart Grid in this Illinois suburb of Chicago siting a substantial and positive environmental impact, more jobs and a move to cleaner energy.
Per Jack Darin who is the Illinois Sierra Club Director (Yes, the Sierra Club…*big sigh*):
“This will be a huge boost to clean energy in Illinois. We'll see new jobs and businesses, and cleaner air as we move away from city coal...A smarter power grid will also save consumers money by giving us new tools to manage our power consumption”
The Natural Resources Defense Council as quoted in ChicagoBusiness.com (Yes. The Natural Resources Defense Council. And no, I do not know who comes up with this stuff.) believes that as much power as is used in 150,000 “average” households will be saved in the next six years, which is the relatively subjective equivalent of $650 million...frankly, I'm not exactly sure what "average" means in this case. Let's just roll with it and let those details fall where they may.
“Sounds great! Sign me up for some of that cheap, clean energy!” you say? Yeah. Not so fast. The Naperville Smart Meter Awareness organization (I know, right? Who even knew that there was a Naperville Smart Meter Awareness organization? But there is, and here’s the link.) has quite a different view of the situation and has filed a federal injunction to stop the wireless Smart Meter deployment in Naperville siting violations in the city’s Open Meetings Act. On top of that, the group believes that the Smart Meters are inaccurate, that they pose a significant health risk, that they invade the privacy of citizens and that they can cause serious damage to homes.
Alright then - not to get all John McLaughlin on you, but:
Issue one - Does the Smart Grid reduce energy consumption?
The answer per an article in Forbes Magazine by Bob Lento is a resounding “no.” You see, the Smart Grid may perhaps track energy usage, but it does not change the consumption patterns of ComEd’s customers. It’s about 9:00 AM as I write this article. I have the dishwasher, and the dryer running. When I’m done writing, I will vacuum and then continue doing the laundry - which as any housewife will tell you, is a real life metaphor for the Never Ending Story (she wistfully eyes the basket of unmatched socks and plots how she might convince the kids that this task is much more fun than Nintendo.) It doesn’t matter whether there is a Smart Meter on my house or not. This is the time of the day when I do my laundry. Having a Smart Meter does not alter that fact. So what Mr. Lento is trying to say is that behaviors must change to improve energy consumption, and this will require some kind of intervention to convince me that I’d rather do my washing at midnight during non-peak times. And I’m glad to see that you are wondering how that will be accomplished, because this brings us to:
Issue two - Will Smart Meters save consumers $650 million a year?
According to a class action lawsuit brought about by energy consumers in Bakersfield, CA against Pacific Gas and Electric, they do not. You see, Bakersfield used to pay flat rates for their electricity, but PG&E installed the meters and then apparently raised the rates during peak periods of consumption but didn’t install the home energy management consoles that would allow customers to monitor their usage and change their behaviors. On top of that, Bakersfield is located in the California desert, and its temperatures rarely fall below 85 degrees. That means that consumers are now paying about $2.20 an hour to run their air conditioning.
“Adrian Tuck, CEO of Tendril Networks, said that utilities have to change how they approach their customers with time-of-use (TOU) rates. ‘A lot of times, the wrong question is asked,’ he said at the conference. He said that utilities must explain that shifting demand is critical or else new power plants will have to be built that will raise prices even further – or blackouts could occur once demand exceeds supply.”
Issue three – How accurate are the new meters?
According to Naperville Smart Meter Awareness, 47,000 meters were uninstalled in the great state of Texas because of reading errors and technical problems. Of course, Texas isn’t Illinois. I’m sure that the Illinois experience would be vastly superior.
Issue four – Are Smart Meters safe?
Well, according to several articles on the subject, they are not. Google it. You'll be amazed. To start, the meters that PG&E installed are about 500% more powerful that the ones that were originally tested. The RF radiation produced by the “Smart Meters” is quite high and RF radiation is known to cause problems in brain functions. Also, there is a strong link to Leukemia in children and adults with RF radiation sensitivities, but there are also reports that the meters are causing migraines, eye problems, tinnitus, anxiety, depression, vertigo, nausea, symptoms similar to asthma, and insomnia.
Issue five – Are there any issues with privacy?
Well, the Washington Post sure thinks there are:
“Instead of measuring energy use at the end of each billing period, smart meters will provide this information at much shorter intervals," the report notes. "Even if electricity use is not recorded minute by minute, or at the appliance level, information may be gleaned from ongoing monitoring of electricity consumption such as the approximate number of occupants, when they are present, as well as when they are awake or asleep. For many, this will resonate as a 'sanctity of the home' issue, where such intimate details of daily life should not be accessible.”
“Sanctity of the home” is really just a fancy way of saying that the “Smart Meters” may violate our Fourth Amendment protections against illegal search and seizure. Couple this with the fact that “Smart Meters” actually contain a chip which will store “signatures” from your home’s energy consumption that can then allow experts to extrapolate what devices the home is using at different times of the day, and you may just have the ultimate privacy showdown on your hands.
But wait, there’s more. You see, a new breed of “smart” appliances are now being produced which will eventually allow your toaster oven to communicate directly with the “Smart Meter” to accurately report what time of the morning that you toasted your English muffin. No extrapolation will be required. How convenient. Trust me, marketing groups are going to want to have that kind of consumer product information and will pay power companies handsomely for access to your personal data. And you thought internet privacy was the number one problem for Americans. You thought that a TSA screening was becoming a tad too intrusive. Guys. That was the good old days. Who knew that your juicer could reveal so much of your personal information to the world at large?
But wait, there’s even more because the “Smart Meter” on the side of your house doesn’t just communicate with one tower off in the hinterlands built to collect generalized usage information. It will also have deep and meaningful communications with every other “Smart Meter” in close proximity to your home to create a usage profile for the entire neighborhood in which you live. This means that not only will the chip living in your home’s “Smart Meter” store the date and time that you toasted an English muffin, but so will all the homes that communicate with your home’s meter thereby creating a staggering redundancy reflecting your English muffin consumption on any given day. Just a suggestion on behalf of Michele Obama? You’d better make that a whole grain muffin.
Naturally, this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface regarding the fundamental political ramifications of the Smart Grid as the authority and oversight over energy consumption becomes more and more centralized. That’s a discussion for more politically adept persons with better insight into power grabs – both literal and figurative. I’ll leave those pertinent debates to them. In the meantime, it might be wise to ask yourself whether the Smart Grid is necessarily the direction that you want the State of Illinois to go, or whether the fight in Naperville signals a new infringement upon rugged individualism for the sake of efficiency.