by K.T. Weaver, SkyVision Solutions
On June 22nd, the North Carolina Utility Commission (NCUC) issued an order to Duke Energy Carolinas, LLC, regarding manual meter reads for those customers seeking opt-outs from utility “smart” meter installations.
There are both positive and negative aspects to the NCUC Order. First I’ll discuss the positive aspects.
The NCUC acknowledged that Duke Energy made a decision to deploy smart meters in the context of an “uncertain regulatory environment.” This is because the FCC exposure guidelines were last updated in 1996 and are the subject of an open docket since 2013 with no resolution.
The NCUC ordered Duke Energy not to charge for smart meter opt-outs if the request is accompanied with a notarized statement from a medical physician citing the need to avoid exposure to RF emissions. Quoting the Order:
“While DEC’s smart meter technology meets current FCC standards, the Commission believes it is inappropriate to require customers who maintain that they need to avoid exposure to RF emissions to the extent possible to protect their health to pay DEC’s proposed smart meter opt-out charges.
Therefore, the Commission will require DEC to amend its Rider MRM to remove the customer charges for those customers who provide the Company with a notarized statement from a medical physician licensed by the North Carolina Medical Board that the customer must avoid exposure to RF emissions to the extent possible to protect their health.
Upon receipt of such statement, the Company shall waive both the one-time and the monthly fees under Rider MRM.”
So the NCUC Order is positive in that it does recognize the “uncertain regulatory environment” surrounding FCC exposure guidelines and whether they adequately protect the public. The NCUC also allowed a method for customers not to be charged for opt-out fees with a notarized statement from a doctor although one has to question why such a statement should be necessary in light of the “uncertain environment.” Without the notarized statement from a physician, customers might be charged $150 for the initial set-up of the manual read meter as well as an ongoing $11.75 monthly fee (although it was not clear to me in the Order that the NCUC was specifically approving those proposed rates).
On the negative side, the NCUC simply allowed the utility company to utilize a smart meter with its radio disabled as the designated opt-out meter. Quoting the Order:
“DEC’s proposal to use smart meters with their communications disabled for those customers who want to opt out of having a smart meter is a reasonable one.”
There is always a concern that the customer may not be able to know for sure that the radio is disabled, plus there are other safety issues that customers have voiced regarding smart meters beyond the RF emissions.
The NCUC provided a good summary in its Order of the comments it received on the proposed “manual read meter” (MRM) rider, and I will reproduce most of them below. Overall, the public comments were quite good; it’s too bad the NCUC didn’t more adequately address them.
Customer Statements of Position on Proposed Rider MRM
The Commission received about 130 customer statements of position in Docket No. E-7, Sub 1115. Nine of the statements appeared to be from Duke Energy customers who reside in other states.
All but one of the commenters opposed DEC’s proposed smart meter opt-out rider and/or DEC’s smart meter deployment in its totality. The vast majority of commenters stated that it is not fair to charge a fee for opting out of a technology when that technology poses a threat to the customer’s health, safety, and/or privacy.
More than half of the commenters stated that AMI meters emit RF radiation that is dangerous to human health, and harmful to plants and animals as well. (Several expressed similar concerns with AMR meters.)
About a third of the commenters cited scientific experts, and many provided articles, citations, and website links, ostensibly demonstrating the potential harm being caused by RF emissions. For example, many people stated that the World Health Organization has classified smart meters as a “class 2b carcinogen.”
About a dozen people stated that the FCC’s safety standards are inadequate to address RF emission risks because the standards only address the thermal, not the biological, impacts of RF emissions. Given the increasing number of RF emission sources in our environment, they state that the FCC’s standards are inadequate and obsolete.
More than a dozen individuals, including a physician, stated that they have personally experienced debilitating health impacts from the cumulative impact of RF emissions from technologies including wi-fi (wireless local area networking) systems, cell phones, and smart meters. They described a condition called electro-hypersensitivity, in which certain individuals experience a myriad of symptoms due to exposure to RF emissions.
Commenters who said they suffer from this affliction described the steps they have taken to limit their exposure to RF emissions, including avoiding cell phones and wi-fi systems. A few went so far as to assert that RF emissions from smart meters contribute to violence and homicides. Many commenters stated that the Commission has a duty to protect the health of DEC’s customers, and, thus, the Commission should deny DEC’s request to charge customers who want to opt out of a smart meter.
The Commission received a statement from David Carpenter, MD, who is Director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany in Rensselaer, New York. The letter was co-signed by four other scientists and doctors, and was cited by many public commenters as providing proof that smart meters are a risk to human health. Among other things, Dr. Carpenter’s letter stated:
– The majority of the scientific literature related to RFR [radiofrequency radiation] stems from cell phone studies.
– Smart meters and cell phones occupy similar frequency bands of the electromagnetic spectrum, meaning that cell phone research can apply to smart meter RFR.
– While the strongest evidence for hazards coming from RFR is for cancer, there is a growing body of evidence that some people develop a condition called electrohypersensitivity (EHS). These individuals respond to being in the presence of RFR with a variety of symptoms, including headache, fatigue, memory loss, ringing in the ears. … Some reports indicate that up to three percent of the population may develop these symptoms, and that exposure to smart meters is a trigger for development of EHS.
About a dozen people stated that DEC is not communicating the truth to its customers about health risks posed by smart meters. Several commenters were aware of the 2015 DHHS Report submitted by DEC and alleged that the report was biased, that it was prepared by people who lack the required expertise, and that its drafters were inappropriately influenced by DEC. Several commenters noted that in March of 2018, scientists reviewing a study by the National Toxicology Program (for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) found that RF waves can be decisively linked to cancer in rats.
…Some stated that smart meters are poorly designed, making them vulnerable to lightning strikes and likely to cause power quality problems for customers. Several people asserted that smart meters could not meet Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (UL), standards, which necessitated the establishment of a special certification for smart meters.
Several commenters were aware that DEC had received federal grants to partially cover the cost of the Company’s smart meter deployments. They stated that it was unfair that they should have to subsidize these meters multiple times, first via their taxes, second via their utility bills, and finally to have to pay the proposed opt-out fee to avoid having a smart meter installed at their home.
About a third of the commenters opposed smart meters because of privacy concerns. Some stated that, in their opinions, the meters constitute a form of trespass or surveillance that requires informed consent (which consent they refuse to grant). …
Several others opposed smart meters due to cyber security concerns. Some people expressed concern that smart meters have a much shorter useful life than analog meters, and that they contain batteries and modems that must be replaced. About a dozen stated a strong preference for analog meters, with a phone line for communication, as the only option that is accurate and safe.
… Several people stated that there is no proof that smart meters will save money for customers. …
About a dozen commenters argued that the Energy Policy Act of 2005 does not require the installation of smart meters. Several individuals stated that DEC had installed smart meters at their homes without prior communication or permission, sometimes when the customer was not at home. …
One commenter opposed DEC’s proposed opt-out solution, saying it would not be possible to know for sure that DEC had disabled the meter’s communications.
… One DEC customer who is on a TOU rate wrote multiple times to express concerns with his smart meter installation. He described numerous problems that he was experiencing including inaccurate displays and false data.
Several customers stated that their electric bills had increased markedly since receiving a smart meter. One stated that he had researched the issue and confirmed that, “Smart Meters record the spikes in usage and result in readings that are higher than with the previously used analog meters.” This customer stated that DEC would thus collect more revenues than is appropriate unless the Commission adjusts DEC’s rates. …
Several commenters cited a recent decision by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission which denied a local utility’s application to install smart meters, which order purportedly stated that the utility’s smart meter deployment plan “does not provide a net public benefit.”
One customer stated that he had had a positive experience with his DEC smart meter. He related that for many years he had believed that his power bills were too high. With the hourly usage data provided by his new meter, he was able to identify the cause and take action to reduce his electricity consumption
 “Order approving manually read meter rider with modifications and requesting meter-related information,” by the North Carolina Utility Commission, June 22, 2018; available here.