Smart Meters—not so Smart by Amy worthington

Smart Meters—not so Smart

How Dangerous and Expensive Became “Smart” An Exposé of the “Smart Grid”

Electric “smart” meters were installed in Cindy deBac’s Scottsdale, Arizona, neighborhood in 2012. She recalls the day a new meter was mounted on her home as a sort of digital Pearl Harbor attack. “I’ve never been so sick in my life,” she says. “Nausea, a crushing migraine headache, and painful heart palpitations laid me low right away.”

Healthy and exuberant before the installation, deBac became unable to sleep normally. She soon became exhausted and tearfully anxious as she struggled with rashes and a chronically racing heart. For respite she spent nights away in her car. One of her dogs died of cancer within six months of the meter’s installation and the other developed large tumors. Today Cindy leads a global educational crusade to warn others about the myriad devastating health effects that electromagnetic radiation can unleash.

Across the U.S. installers continue to replace comparatively safe analog (mechanical) utility meters with digital “smart” meters for electrical, gas and water services. Most of the new meters are wireless two-way transmitters that pulse signals to communicate continuously between your home, school, or workplace and utility companies miles away. The new meters are part of a nationwide project dubbed Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI). Most folks call this evolving make-over the “smart grid.”

The AMI “smart” meter below records electrical consumption data and sends the information wirelessly to energy system managers. “Smart” meters can be programmed to read and transmit data monthly, or up to every fifteen seconds. Data may be relayed by systems similar to mobile phones or Wi-Fi. Or information may be relayed via fiber optics (thin, transparent cables that carry signals by pulsing light). Of these methods, fiber optics may offer the safest transmission.

AMI is nested within the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009, and the Obama Administration has shoveled an estimated eleven billion dollars into incentive programs for utilities that participate. “Smart” grid advocates insist that the new two-way meters will reduce national energy consumption and allow consumers to make better choices about their energy needs.

The Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are among federal heavyweights behind the thundering AMI rollout. Several universities and corporations stand to profit hugely by providing AMI equipment, software and expertise. These include General Electric, IBM, Hewlett Packard, Siemens, Toshiba, Microsoft, Cisco, Verizon, Google, Itron and Tantalus.

With a financial and political engine of this magnitude, the AMI meter replacement project has moved at lightning speed. According to the Institute for Electric Efficiency (IEE), nearly 40 percent of U.S. households had an electric “smart” meter installed by August 2013. A total of sixty-five million “smart” meters are projected to be installed by 2015, covering more than half of all U.S. households.1 Among states hit hardest so far have been Oregon, Idaho, California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Maryland, Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Vermont, Florida, Georgia and Alabama.


Over the last three years, strong-arm installation tactics, fires caused by meters, skyrocketing utility bills, privacy concerns and disabling health effects have given momentum to a broad coalition of “smart” grid opponents. Many, including some government officials, say that the touted benefits of “smart” systems have not materialized, while the negative ramifications have proven disastrous.

Win2014Smart1 AMI “SMART” METER

The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) has proposed a moratorium on “smart” meters as an “issue of the highest importance.” This international association of physicians and public health experts warns that it is unacceptable to implement radiation-emitting technology before serious medical and environmental concerns have been properly addressed.2

AMI is calibrated to expose all Americans to three new and powerful sources of microwave radiation: “smart” meters, “smart” appliances, and a ubiquitous network of antennas on utility poles and cell towers in urban and rural neighborhoods. Neither the federal government nor grid profiteers have undertaken a single public health study about the long-term health effects of exposure to electromagnetic radition (EMR) from “smart” meters. Yet medical literature is now loaded with peer-reviewed studies about the non-thermal biological effects of exposure to EMR. Peer-reviewed studies report DNA damage, abnormal genetic and hormonal changes, sperm damage, pregnancy complications, weakening of the blood-brain barrier, disturbance of voltage-gated calcium channels (for example, in the heart), degradation of immunity, and certain types of cancers.3

Especially worrisome, says AAEM, is mounting evidence that inescapable electromagnetic fields exposure from smart meters places children at particular risk for altered brain development and for impaired learning and behavior. These concerns are corroborated by the blockbuster BioInitiative Report 2012. Produced by twenty-nine medical and public health experts from ten countries, the BioInitiative Report offers a meta-analysis of over eighteen hundred new scientific studies showing that chronic exposure to both ELF and microwaves poses a serious health hazard. At highest risk are the most vulnerable of our population: children, pregnant mothers, the elderly and the immunecompromised.4

Health ramifications aside, AMI technology is good for the corporate bottom line. “Smart” meters eliminate the need for human meter readers. They allow utilities to turn services on and off remotely. The meters identify consumption of a product and automatically send those data to headquarters for monitoring and billing. They allow water utility companies to monitor and control consumer usage closely. Because electricity is delivered most efficiently in an even, steady flow, “smart” grid enthusiasts aim to encourage residential customers to use less electricity during daytime working hours and more during evenings and weekends. Eventually, customers may be charged by time-of-use. “Smart” grid promoters claim that by 2030, the system will reduce nationwide electricity usage by about four percent.5

But at what price? The cost of the “smart” meter program is breathtaking. By some estimates, utility consumers will pay at least two hundred twenty-five billion dollars to blanket the nation with AMI meters. A “smart” electric meter can cost hundreds of dollars per household. The attorney general of Massachusetts projected the cost of each meter in that state at almost three thousand dollars.6 Some AMI equipment manufacturers suggest that meters may need to be replaced as often as every three years to keep up with technical innovations.7 This would force consumers to continually pay for new hardware that they are coerced to accept. Critics say that when time-of-use pricing goes into effect, utility bills could become insurmountable for many customers (unless they learn to direct their peak energy usage to the middle of the night).


Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) of California was among the first U.S. utilities to deploy AMI meters. Its 2010-2012 “smart” meter rollout caused a state-wide furor. Some older “smart” meter systems (AMR) send their data through existing utility lines. A few newer AMI systems communicate through fiber optics. But like many other utility companies, PG&E has deployed a mesh networking system, which broadcasts pulsed radio frequency signals (microwaves) into homes and across outdoor spaces. PG&E’s “smart” grid emits EMR from the meters and from a state-wide support network including:

• Thousands of new utility antenna communications towers and relay/repeater poles;

• Thousands of new mobile data base stations with fixed and mobile radios for utility workers;

• Thousands of crossband repeater stations, each broadcasting radiation in the 900 megahertz range;

• Thousands of broadband access points emitting the license-exempt Wi-Fi frequency bands of 2.45, 3.65, and 5.8 gigahertz;

• Thousands of point-to-point microwave links providing backhaul for the system;

• Thousands of integrated service routers handling security and network management through wireless signals.8

The new smart grid signal infrastructure is a duplication of the massive cellular communications build-out which, over the last thirty years, has spawned over three hundred thousand microwave towers and rooftop antenna arrays from coast to coast. There are at least a dozen published epidemiological studies reporting that populations living within five hundred meters of cellular microwave antennas suffer high rates of adverse health effects including headaches, skin rashes, vision/hearing problems, dizziness, sleep disturbances, hormonal abnormalities and chronic fatigue. There are also many reports of cancer clusters among people living near cell towers or in buildings directly under them.9

The “smart” grid network inflicts an incalculable increase in hazardous EMR at a time when the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has designated all RF/microwave electromagnetic frequencies as a Group 2B carcinogen (possibly cancer-causing).10


A group of concerned medical doctors in Eugene, Oregon, reports: “PG&E’s approach to the AMI rollout didn’t involve a lot of public education. They just switched out the meters. And some people found that they were having trouble sleeping, or experiencing headaches, ringing in the ears, vertigo or other symptoms that hadn’t been bothering them before. Soon the Internet was awash with anecdotal reports and commentary about these adverse effects. . . Finally PG&E was served with a court order to provide clearer documentation of what the meters were actually doing. In response to that court order, PG&E provided documentation from the manufacturer of the meters that the average meter in the mesh network transmitted data signals to the utility six times a day, network management signals fifteen times a day, timing signals three hundred sixty times a day and beacon signals to the mesh network nine thousand six hundred times a day….This penciled out to roughly seven transmissions per minute, twenty-four hours a day, coming out of every meter in the community.”11

Win2014Smart2  Win2014Smart3
Left: An EMR-emitting device attached to a telephone pole. Right: A cell tower.

Since microwaves easily flow through most construction materials, “smart” meters attached to the outside of homes (or huge banks of them on multi-unit dwellings) broadcast a perpetual barrage of Group 2B radiation directly into the interior of inhabited buildings and right through all human flesh within range.

In addition, some residents within AMI mesh networks may also have “Medusa” meters on their property. One investigator reports: “A utility whistle blower told us about a special smart meter—a mini cell phone tower. This collection device receives data and more radiation from five hundred to seven hundred surrounding meters and uses the customer’s premises to serve as a relay station to transmit other neighbors’ data along the mesh network to collection points. These Medusa meters are deployed upon properties without the owner’s knowledge or consent. The utilities select a property for this meter based upon easy meter access to the street, no locked gates or dogs and good customer payment history. . . Utilities reward good customers with a Medusa meter and bathe their homes with additional toxic radiation.”12

By early 2011, the California Public Utilities Commission had received over two thousand health complaints from PG&E customers and the complaints escalated from there. By the end of 2011, multiple California cities had either banned smart meters or had placed a moratorium on continued installation. Currently, many California communities are still in AMI limbo, while communities in other states also struggle to find their way.


“Smart” meters are “hot,” in terms of broadcast power density, and can emit microwaves at levels many times higher than those reported by medical studies to cause serious adverse health effects. Film producer Josh del Sol reported in his documentary Take Back Your Power that testing shows a single “smart” meter can produce eight microwatts per centimeter squared (cm2). A bank of smart meters can generate up to 19.8 microwatts/cm2 of whole-body radiation exposure. Meantime, modern medical science confirms that a microwave transmission power of only .05 microwatts/cm2 can cause children to suffer headaches, behavioral problems and inability to learn and concentrate.13

In a study conducted by chiropractic physician Dr. Frank Springob, “smart” meter radiation exposure quickly produced almost instant blood abnormalities in human test subjects.14 Volunteers had their blood examined as normal, then stood within one foot of a transmitting “smart” meter for only two minutes. A post-exposure examination with dark field microscopy showed that all volunteers had developed one of these blood pathologies:

• Marked degradation of cells with some cell walls broken;

• Corrugated formation in which blood cells become crimped like bottle caps;

• A rouleaux condition in which the red blood cells clump abnormally together. Dietrich Klinghardt, MD, PhD, who practices medicine in Washington State, says, “It is our experience as doctors that everybody is equally electro-sensitive.” Dr. Klinghardt finds the same inflammatory markers in the blood of every EMR-exposed person, both those who feel bad from exposure and those who notice no preliminary ill effects.15

“Smart” grid proponents routinely insist that the meters emit RF radiation at levels far below maximum exposure standards set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). FCC is the federal agency with sole authority to regulate wireless antennas. But environmental consultant Cindy Sage, co-editor of the BioInitiative Report, has determined that the emissions from “smart” meters installed across California likely exceed FCC’s guidelines.16

Meanwhile, BioInitiative Report scientists recommend that the FCC reduce allowable emissions by thousands-fold in order to protect public health. Cindy Sage explains that EMR emitted by “smart” meters reaching the interior of a home can be comparable to radiation levels found within two hundred to six hundred feet of a cell tower. She warns: “If you think of a strobe light or a laser in the eyes, it is intermittent but powerfully disabling if you are forced to endure it. [“Smart” meter] signals may be short bursts of RF (this depends on the meter and how utilities choose to operate) but… it is a continual 24/7 battering of the body with cellular insults.”17


Due to public uproar, some utility companies unleashing “smart” meter systems are offering opt-out programs. Opt-out often requires those who refuse “smart” meters to pay one or more fees for the right to keep their older and safer analog meters. Some complain that the fees are reminiscent of extortion from old-time protection thugs.

Requesting an opt-out is definitely a first step to protecting one’s own home from harmful, microwave emissions. But it does not address exposure to EMR from neighboring meters, or from mesh pole transmitters on the grid. EMR from some meters can be measured over three hundred feet away. A single-family home in a residential community can be well within three hundred feet of several near and next-nearest neighbors. Thus, even at the distance of a football field, EMR from many surrounding meters could prove biologically significant, even for those who retain their analog meters. Residents of townhouses, condos and apartment buildings may be especially vulnerable when ten or twenty meters or more are installed on one wall.

Also, an opt-out does not resolve the hazards of dirty electricity polluting a neighborhood loaded with AMI meters. Nor does it protect people who don’t have enough information to request an opt-out, but who may one day develop illnesses from EMR exposure.

Living in rural areas does not solve the problem. Some rural utilities serving mountainous and/or forested areas may choose to deploy AMI metering solutions like those provided by Tantalus Systems Corp. Tantalus creates hybrid “smart” antenna systems, utilizing a variety of frequency signals that can travel through and around obstacles in their quest to “connect.”18 As with other frequency fields deployed by AMI, no studies of the biological effects of such public exposure have been conducted.


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