LG&E and smart meters: Get the tin foil hats?

LG&E and smart meters: Get the tin foil hats?

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It didn’t take long for the anonymous package to arrive in the mail after I had first written about LG&E’s plan to roll out smart meters in the coming years.

Someone had sent me a greatly taped up envelope marked “personal and confidential” containing 44 pages of allegations and lists of studies on the threats posed by these advanced electricity meters that communicate with utilities using radio frequencies, also alleging a media blackout.

“Crime has been increasing due to the severe damage and mind control mechanism caused by these wireless frequencies,” my correspondent wrote. “Urban trees, plants, and wildlife are dying and disappearing now that these wireless devices have been installed. Millions have already died because of exposure to these meters.”

A couple of days later, I received an unsolicited phone call from a woman in South Carolina who said she had heard I was looking for people who had been made sick by smart meters. I hadn’t been.

Holy moly, I thought. I had just opted into a pilot program offered by LG&E to have such a smart meter put on my home. How quickly will my neighbors and their pets – and my wife and I – start dropping dead?

Seriously, I had no qualms about the new technology, which allows me to track my electricity use in near real time, and will help me find ways to save money once I really dig into the information available. LG&E officials also say it will allow them to instantly know if there’s a power failure at my home, which means crews can get started on repairs more quickly. That’s big.

> READ MORE:LG&E rate hike to cover updates, smart meters

> READ MORE: LG&E bills could start at $46 a month, challenge solar

The dashboard of information on my home’s energy use is difficult to navigate, but LG&E said they are working on a more customer-friendly display

Still, with LG&E and its sister company, Kentucky Utilities, pegging their next rate increases partly on rolling out 1.3 million smart meters by 2019, I thought I should at least start to try to understand what’s going on.

This has been a North American fight for several years, with tens of millions of smart meters already hooked up in the United States. The technology has been slow to come to Kentucky.

Smart meters and smart grids offer opportunities to save energy and improve service. But as the Sierra Club found four years ago when the issue was first blowing up, there was a strong backlash “from Tea Partiers who see them as a U.N. plot to (Marin County residents just north of San Francisco) who blame their radio frequency radiation for a host of ills. That backlash is now so large, reports Mark Chediak for Bloomberg, that it’s delaying a $29 billion program to upgrade the U.S. electricity grid.”

The Kentucky Public Service Commission began studying the issue that same year, and just concluded its research in April, finding no reason to prevent their rollout in Kentucky. That PSC noted that the Kentucky Attorney General’s office concluded that “very few independent scientific results have been produced demonstrating that smart meters are either unsafe or dangerous to human health.”

Two years ago the American Cancer Society explained smart meters this way: “The frequency and power of the (radio frequency) waves given off by a smart meter are similar to that of a typical cell phone, cordless phone or residential Wi-Fi router. Smart meters typically send and receive short messages about 1 percent of the time.”

Radio frequency radiation is a possible carcinogen, the society wrote, and smart meters give off this kind of radiation, so there could be some extra cancer risk from them. But it’s unclear what if any risk that is. “It would be nearly impossible to conduct a study to prove or disprove a link between living in a house with smart meters and cancer because people have so many sources of exposure … and the level of exposure from this source is so small.”

The meters transmit less than 3 minutes a day, said John Malloy, vice president, customer service of LG&E.

The Kentucky PSC said utilities can allow customers to opt out, but only if they pay the extra costs of not participating. That kind policy has led to complaints and lawsuits around the country. So far, LG&E has no plans to let its anyone opt out.

“We still believe we can educate our customers,” Molloy said. LG&E’s website points to World Health Organization conclusion that no adverse health effects have been demonstrated from exposure to low-level radio frequency energy such as that produced by advanced meters.

Still, the utility could have a challenge, even though some of the complaints the PCS got came from what could be called the clown car of conspiracies.

As one man wrote in an email to the commission: “The reason they want to send it wireless is to capture voice conversations within 30 feet or more of  meter … and bombard us with  more radiation & interfere and when it doesnt onterfere (sic) capture all other wireless data from all  peoples wireless devices and send that info in.”

I’m not getting rid of my iPhone, which I use a lot – or the microwave oven, or Wi-Fi. So it would make no sense to ditch the new smart meter.

But I am curious now to see whether that smart meter lives up to its potential. And I’m ready to watch and report on how all this turns out for LG&E and its customers.

Reporter James Bruggers writes this Watchdog Earth blog. Reach him at (502) 582-4645 and at jbruggers@courier-journal.com.

http://www.courier-journal.com/story/tech/science/watchdog-earth/2016/11/23/lge-and-smart-meters-get-tin-foil-hats/94335358/

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