Two organizations which support smart meters and smart grid implementation published highly critical reviews of the new documentary film, “Take Back Your Power,” even before it premiered on September 5th. The “TBYP” film itself is quite critical of the energy utility industry which has been replacing analog energy consumption meters with new so-called smart meters at an accelerating rate over the past few years. The new documentary film investigates the heated controversy surrounding the smart meters and such topics as utility overcharges, invasive monitoring, and adverse health effects.
Environmental Defense Fund
The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) wrote an article on September 4th, in part stating, “The film suggests that smart meters cause illness. According to an August 12 USA Today story, the film’s director was inspired by a friend who became seriously ill after a smart meter was installed at his home. Naturally, this type of personal experience might shape one’s view on smart meters, but correlation is not causation.”
So as you can see, the EDF article attempts to inject doubt into any conclusions reached by the TBYP film due to the “personal experience” that may have shaped the film director’s views. A link will be provided at the end of this posting if you want to read the entire EDF article. For the most part it represents pro-smart grid propaganda, … although EDF does at least support the concept of consumers being able to opt-out of smart meters should they choose to do so.
Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative
Another blog posting was written on August 16, 2013, by the Executive Director of the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC). The article starts out by describing the TBYP film as a “forthcoming documentary spreading misinformation about smart grid and smart meters.” Now how objective is that for someone to criticize a film on its content who no doubt had no opportunity to watch the new documentary in advance?
The SGCC Executive Director then ends the blog posting by stating: “Too bad the Take Back Your Power crowd doesn’t realize their position actually gives away consumer empowerment to manage their electric bill and know details about their usage.” Again, these comments represent clear propaganda where the mandated smart meters are advertised as all about “empowering” the consumers, whether they want it or not.
As if that were not enough, the SGCC Director adds a “comment” to her own blog posting by stating, “Please note there are over 200 million smart meters in operation globally, including 50 million in the U.S., without a single verified instance of negative health effects. You would have to stand in front of a smart meter for 19 years to get the same radiation as you get from a 5 minute cell phone call.”
Now I don’t know exactly how many smart meters have been installed globally; I just know that there are too many. We do know there have been health complaints in probably every community they have been installed, and many complaints have been documented to be quite credible. This is where you get into tricky semantics. The SGCC Director refers to not having a “single verified instance of negative effects.” [The EDF article makes a similar claim.] What does the SGCC Director consider to be the approved method to verify “negative health effects” for each instance where it is reported? She evidently would not accept a medical doctor’s diagnosis. On the other hand, it is true that when a person dies from lung cancer, there is no absolute way to “verify” that a specific death was due to smoking cigarettes, radon exposure, or from some other cause. If one uses this type of logic, then there is likely no mechanism to “verify” reported adverse health effects to the satisfaction of the SGCC. How convenient.
Then there is the ludicrous claim that “You would have to stand in front of a smart meter for 19 years to get the same radiation as you get from a 5 minute cell phone call.” These types of claims are frequently made by smart grid advocates without any accompanying basis information so that there is normally no way to test the validity of the assumptions. No doubt someone did calculate these values based upon some inappropriate assumptions in order to make the comparison sound as extreme as possible. However, based upon the information provided below, it will become clear that the SGCC claim does not pass the smell test.
Discussion and Commentary
Both sides of the controversy can play games with these number comparisons between cell phones and smart meters. Such claims set up straw man arguments that are not helpful to settling any debate. The truth is that it is inappropriate to compare cell phone exposure values that are calculated for a device held in contact with the ear area to the more uniform whole body exposures received from smart meters. It is attempting to compare apples with oranges.
However, there is a revealing report entitled, “An Evaluation of Radio Frequency Fields Produced by Smart Meters Deployed in Vermont,” by Richard Tell Associates, Inc., dated, January 14, 2013. In that report, measurements were made of RF fields produced by a cellular phone “to provide perspective on potential exposure to cell phones and smart meters.” According to Richard Tell Associates: “Cell phones make use of transceivers that, in terms of power and frequencies used, are not very different from the transceivers in smart meters. Thus, one would not expect that there would be very much difference in exposure between the two devices except for the fact that cell phones are intended to be used against the body while smart meters are not.”
In fact, in measurements conducted by Richard Tell Associates as a part of the above study, an RF detection device was placed at a height of five feet, such that it was located one (1) foot away from both a smart meter and a cell phone. The resulting spatially averaged RF field measurements were nearly identical for both devices.
This is the sort of common sense starting point for making rational and real comparisons between smart meter RF exposures to cell phone exposures. Based upon the above information and other information that I have reviewed, if you talk on a cell phone in the hands-free mode, which is becoming very popular, your exposure is probably about the same as standing one to two feet away from a wireless smart meter. Beyond that, you can claim that being at a greater distance from a smart meter can be considered a differential factor under typical exposure scenarios as compared with a cell phone. Conversely, however, another differential factor is the chronic nature of smart meter exposure as opposed to most people using their cell phones for no more 20 minutes* per day for voice communications. There is also evidence that different signal characteristics of RF emissions from different devices may produce different biological effects. Once you add in the aspect of cell phone use being voluntary where smart meter installations are being mandated for everyone including children and vulnerable populations, you have a clear and compelling argument for questioning the wisdom of massive wireless smart meter roll-outs across many countries.
[* According to a CNN article published in 2012: “The average [cell phone] subscriber used 639 voice minutes per month in 2011, down from 720 minutes in 2010.” This would translate as a reduction from about 24 minutes to 21 minutes of voice time per day, but one must keep in mind that many subscribers have family share plans, so it is unlikely that all 20 minutes or so per day usage should be attributed to single individuals.]
The SGCC will no doubt never admit to adverse health hazards, privacy concerns, etc., regarding the massive roll-out of smart grid technology. The SGCC clearly represents the industry interests and is hopelessly biased. The Environmental Defense Fund, however, claims to have a mission “to preserve the natural systems on which all life depends.” With mounting evidence that RF emissions harm the environment**, maybe there is hope that someday the EDF will change its current position of supporting smart grid systems that implement wireless technology.
Let’s also hope that the TBYP documentary film can help increase consumer awareness of the true costs and risks associated with smart grid systems. Certainly the film can be considered one-sided in its viewpoint, but it is “high time” that some large-scale “balance” is provided to at least offset some of the exaggerated benefits and propaganda disseminated by the utilities and the smart grid industry.
[** See, for example, link at https://smartgridawareness.org/2013/07/27/impacts-of-rf-on-ecosystem/.]
Links for Articles Mentioned in this Posting