Wednesday, December 29, 2010

First Arrests of Smart Meter Protesters in U.S. Made Today in Marin Co., California

Should the Wireless Sector be Concerned with Increasing EMF Militancy ? 12/29/2010 San Francisco - Two activists protesting the deployment of smart meters by Northern California's Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. (NYSE: PCG) today became the first anti-smart meter campaigners in the U.S. to be arrested for their actions.

Katharina Sandizell-Smith and Kristin McCrory were accused of blocking a public street in Inverness Park, California this morning and arrested by Marin County Sheriff's Deputies. In a variety of venues, groups associated with today's arrests allege that wireless smart meters emit levels of electromagnetic frequency (EMF) radiation that are harmful to human health. 
Marin County Sheriff's Deputies arrest Katharina Sandizell-Smith (left) and
Kristin McCrory (right) in Inverness Park, California this morning.
Photo: Courtesy of Scotts Valley Neighbors Against Smart Meters

Today's arrests mark a new flash point among anti-smart meter groups scattered around the nation and electric utilities installing the terminals which are key elements of the emerging American smart grid infrastructure.

In comments of this afternoon to this publication, spokesperson Joshua Hart of the group, Scotts Valley Neighbors Against Smart Metersthat organized the protest went further than voicing the group's continued criticism of PG&E's smart meter effort. He warned the U.S. wireless industry of an increasing militancy, as activists fighting what they see as the harmful impacts of a variety of EMF applications present throughout society.

"The wireless industry needs to look itself in the mirror and decide whether they are going to follow the tobacco industry's route of denial and deception, burdening a generation with lasting health impacts or invest in high speed fibre optic, wired and stable connections for our future telecommunications needs", said Hart in an email in response to our questions about today's arrests.

"There is a growing revolution across the country against forced wireless smart meters, and other microwave radiation near people's homes.   Government and industry would be wise to take note," concluded the spokesperson of the group named , based in Santa Cruz County, California.

Hart agreed with our estimate that today's arrests in Marin are the first in the United States staged by anti-smart meter protesters. This assessment is concurred with by another leading anti-smart meter organizer, Sandi Maurer of Sebastopol, CA. Ms. Maurer is a co-founder of the EMF Safety Network

While several California legislators and consumer groups have criticized various aspects of PG&E's smart meter roll out as it effects ratepayers, these two groups have instead focused on what they see as the EMF ramifications of the large scale deployment. 

Concerns about the perceived harm of EMF radiation have been voiced for years by citizens opposed to the construction of wireless antenna sites. The new focus on smart meters has however caught the U.S. wireless industry  by surprise at a time it is greatly increasing its capital investment in 4G broadband networks. 

Activists allege that the peak or pulse radiation emitted by wireless smart meters, as the terminals cycle through bursts of near real time data delivery, should be further investigated and limited by federal equipment certification processes. They routinely state, in testimony to state utility regulators and in other venues, that this issue of peak radiation has not been properly studied by either the utility or wireless sectors.  

"Who Are Those Guys"?
Coming on the heels of passage in June of San Francisco's local ordinance requiring EMF warning labels on all wireless devices sold in the city, calls in Congress for further radiation studies, and EMF activism around smart meter installation programs in other California locations, one wonders if a tipping point of negative public opinion may loom on the horizon.

Marin County, California, like its more famous sister county across the Golden Gate, San Francisco, is one of the most progressive polities in the nation. Should the American wireless sector see concerns about EMF issues in Marin, in San Francisco, and in other areas of the Golden State as early telltales of a potential national trend, or as outliers easily dismissed? 

"Yes," said Sandi Maurer answering our question about the possible importance of today's apparently planned arrests, "today is significant in terms of the movement" toward what she calls "prudent use" of wireless.

"There is a certain part of the population, I can't guess how large it is, that avoids the use of wireless for health reasons," said Maurer of the EMF Safety Network. She pointed out that for those people wary of EMF radiation from a variety of sources, the perception that a utility will install a wireless meter in one's home without an "opt out" provision is upsetting.   

Advocates for smart grid investment nationally -- investment which has been given an $11 billion jump start by federal stimulus funding ($3.4 billion dedicated to smart meters) appropriated by Congress for programs of the U.S. Department of Energy -- can be forgiven for regarding two arrests in bucolic West Marin as being apropos of nothing. 

Coupled with consumer protection concerns over billing accuracy, and over capital costs loaded onto the rate base, will the growing militancy focused on smart meters argue for some state level regulatory second looks? Will these, in turn, result in even further slowed deployments of this essential end equipment needed to capitalize the larger national smart grid infrastructure?

Should the industry and the regulators, perhaps, be like Butch and Sundance and at least deign to ask "Who are those guys"? 

Our Take: Two Industries Need to Take A Closer Look in 2011
We believe wireless carriers and equipment manufacturers will be paying closer attention in 2011 to how smart meter deployments may become, surprisingly to many of us, drivers of an elevated concern with EMF issues by some U.S. consumers. We think the smarter utilities and regulators will be doing the same. We think that's a good thing.

Yes, yes, we've heard all the arguments that people concerned about this stuff are crazy.

Here's the deal: We in the telecom industry make our living in a sector that is regulated at all 3 levels of government.  We've permitted wired and wireless technologies since before most people even knew what cable television was.  We've been preaching in favor of the smart grid over broadband since before those terms were in common use. Despite what we might like to think, we don't have a god given right to dig up a street, site a tower, or receive public sector subsidies. We do all those things, and more, because our customers want our services. 

When fellow Americans, no matter how few and no matter how vilified, are going into the streets to get arrested about something our industry is doing, is that really a good thing for us? Anyone that thinks it is a good thing has never actually done the hard work of permitting, licensing, or deploying the technologies that drive our country's economy.     

Let's drop back and listen, do some more studies, allow opt outs when necessary. The big power monopolies, like PG&E, trace their ancestry back to the robber baron era. They often remind us of that. Let's remember that many of us in competitive telecom grew up fighting another monopoly called the Bell System. We had the American consumer on our side as we did. Let's remember that too.
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