Should We Be Concerned About KUB’s New ‘Smart’ Meters?
by Rachel Milford
This July, KUB will begin installing “smart” meters in every KUB serviced home and business as part of their “Meter Modernization” program. Over the past five to 10 years, smart meters have been installed in communities all over the United States and across the world. While they do provide many benefits, such as the ability for consumers to better track their energy consumption, many communities have experienced alarming side effects, particularly in regard to health. In fact, in California, one of the first states to receive smart meters, 57 counties, cities, and towns have opposed the mandatory smart-meter programs, and 15 of them have passed ordinances banning smart meters altogether (view list at stopsmartmeters.org). Fortunately, KUB is providing each and every one of us with the opportunity to educate ourselves on the matter and choose whether to participate or opt out of this new program.
What is a smart meter? It’s a new utility meter that monitors and automatically transmits energy usage via wireless signals. The idea is that now instead of having to send meter readers to all of our homes and businesses, our wireless smart meters will send that information directly to a large cell tower constructed for that purpose. These meters will be sending wireless transmissions to these towers throughout the day in order to give KUB real time readings of each homeowner’s power usage.
This $54 million, four-year project will begin with the downtown and North Knoxville areas, as well as parts of South, East, and West Knoxville. Over the next four years, KUB will replace over 400,000 meters systemwide, installing one of these meters for every utility of KUB’s you use: gas, electric, and water. That is between two to three meters for most homes.
According to KUB, this new advanced metering technology will offer many advantages, such as reporting outages to KUB automatically, allowing meters to be read without need of a physical meter reader, letting customers view an online, detailed usage report for each of their utilities, and most of all, saving KUB time and money.
Sounds great, right? However, what KUB hasn’t publicly discussed much are the various concerns that these meters have raised in other communities. Smart meters essentially act like mini cell towers on each of our homes, emitting radio frequencies (RFs) that can radiate outward and into our homes. As described in news articles, as well as from personal testimonies to local governments and in court cases, people have reported headaches, dizziness, breathing problems, nausea, cognitive issues, and heart problems (among other effects) after installation of smart meters. According to Sensus, the company manufacturing the particular meters KUB will install, “RF energy produced by smart meters is not harmful and is comparable to cellular phone devices, wireless baby monitors, television broadcasts, garage door openers, microwave ovens, cordless home phones, and Wi-Fi networks.” This statistic, however, is based upon a time-averaged number, which hides the fact that RF “pulses” coming off smart meters vary in strength throughout the day and include peak pulses that emit at much higher levels, documented by the Electric Power Research Institute.
In 2013, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified RF emissions from electronic devices such as computers, cell phones, and smart meters, as “potentially carcinogenic” in the same class as lead and chloroform. According to the American Cancer Society, “Because RF radiation is a possible carcinogen, and smart meters give off RF radiation, it is possible that smart meters could increase cancer risk. Still, it isn’t clear what risk, if any there might be from living in a home with a smart meter.”
Despite the lack of conclusive agreement amongst health experts on this topic, there is a wealth of peer-reviewed scientific studies establishing a strong link between exposure to RFs, such as the levels emitted by smart meters, and biological effects such as cancer, oxidative stress/DNA damage, reproduction/fertility effects, disrupted immune function, and cardiovascular issues. In the 2012 BioInitiative Report, one of the best compilations of these studies, researchers observed these negative effects at levels far below the FCC’s current maximum permissible exposure limits for radio frequencies. For those interested, this 1,479-page report can be read in its entirety at bioinitiative.org.
In addition to health concerns, smart meters also pose privacy issues, as they transmit personal information about our daily activities to KUB through our energy usage profiles. As there is no law preventing it, this data may be sold to third parties, such as insurance companies, marketers, law enforcement, or government. Other communities around the world have experienced other concerns, such as meters catching fire and increased energy bill costs, not to mention the job losses that these meters cause.
What KUB is not widely publicizing is this: You have the right and the opportunity to opt out of receiving these new smart meters. Opting out will certainly lessen you and your family’s exposure to RFs. Unfortunately, though, the damaging effects of RFs can extend distances of up to 100 meters, so the decisions your neighbors make will affect your household as well.
KUB will begin sending out notices in June letting you know about the smart meter program and giving you up to 30 days to opt out. If you do not opt out, you will automatically receive smart meters. In order to opt out, you can call KUB at 865-524-2911. Stay on the line, ask to speak to a representative, and then ask to opt out. If you have questions about the program or would like to know when you are scheduled to receive a smart meter, you can email KUB’s Eric Greene at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s understandable that many may approach this issue with skepticism. Can we prove without a shadow of a doubt that this new technology will cause our bodies harm, that the RFs coming from our cell phones, Wi-Fi, and smart meters are making us ill? Do we know at exactly what level of cumulative RF exposure cancer cells may begin to appear in one’s body? Not yet. But what we do know, and what plenty of research suggests, is that the levels of RFs these smart meters and our other electronic devices emit may cause potentially significant health issues in people over time, if not immediately. This issue brings to mind many technologies once thought to be benign, such as DDT and mercury fillings.
Perhaps it’s time to challenge the current logic of our government and our industries that assumes something is completely safe until proven otherwise. It’s time to reverse the burden of proof. Let’s demand that they prove something safe before exposing our bodies to it. We have the intelligence and capability necessary to create new technologies that both advance efficiency and promote the wellness of our human and ecological communities.
For those of you interested in learning more, the local group Stop KUB Smart Meters will be screening an award-winning documentary on the topic called Take Back Your Power on Friday, May 27, at 7 p.m. at the Birdhouse Community Center (800 N. 4th Ave.). The movie will be followed by a Q&A and open forum.
Rachel Milford is a community health advocate, small business owner, and a Knoxville native.
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