In September 2011, a hearing was held by the U.S. House of Representatives to address implementation aspects of the “smart grid.” In one of the few and possibly only instances of this type of hearing, a Congressional representative asked witnesses about both privacy and health concerns related to the smart grid and smart meters.
The focus of this webpage (and related video) is to highlight questioning by Representative Biggert. Needless to say, the witnesses had very little of substance to say to address health issues. Although the witnesses acknowledge privacy issues, they are ultimately addressed with standards and “guidelines” which are not binding on the utilities. Plus, the guidelines do not remove the basic fact that the collection of granular data by smart meters does invade privacy. Refer to a separate link on “How Smart Meters Invade Individual Privacy,” at http://thetruthaboutsmartgrids.org/privacy-and-data-security/how-smart-meters-invade-individual-privacy/.
The question from Ms. Biggert is:
“My question is related to the type of technology that the standards development process will eventually allow, and do you see room for variable types of smart grid technologies? The reason for this is that some of my constituents have raised privacy or health concerns with the smart grid devices, especially the wireless technologies, and this is from a community that has been working on this since 2005 and to develop the smart grid and the smart meters, and so this has come up from some of the constituents, and what happened here is actually that they did a survey and everyone agreed to have mandatory technology. So do you see that there is a mix of technologies being deployed that can address their concerns and still meet the goals of an interoperable smart grid? Mainly it is the two issues. One is the health concerns and also privacy when they have the meters in their homes. I would like all of you to address this.”
On health issues, the basic responses were (as documented by the Hearing transcript):
Dr. Arnold: “I would say that is a little bit outside of our jurisdiction because the FCC sets requirements on emission levels for wireless devices. To the best of my knowledge, the devices that are being used in smart grid applications, they have to comply with the FCC requirements,…”
Chairman Nelson: “In terms of the safety issue, I think there is a lot of evidence that the systems are safe.”
Mr. Caskey: “I have read various studies by the Electric Power Research Institute and other organizations, and at least so far they have not found any evidence between any health concerns and the radio-type receivers and transmitters used in the smart grid and the smart meter deployment. Certainly, if there are issues associated with that or there are perceived issues associated with that, you can potentially take that out but then you lose some of the features and the benefits of those meters so the may not be very cost-effective once you take away that two-way communication aspect of those smart meters.”
Mr. Drummond: … [No specific response to health issues] … “So I think in answer to your initial question, there is a lot of variety out there you can go do. There is always this tradeoff about how much you mandate specific standard to go this which will actually reduce risk a whole lot, from my risk thing earlier, but it also squashes innovation.”