Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics and “Smart Meters”
By Katherine Smith
Described by electromagnetic standards expert Dr. Don Maisch, PhD as “enabling devices”, the stealthy introduction of “smart meters” poses potential risks to health, privacy and home security and the loss of independence for New Zealanders…but you’d never know it if the electricity industry were your sole source of information about this new technology…
Over the past few years, a transformation of New Zealand’s electricity industry has been underway. Quietly, usually without any fanfare, the dependable, long-lasting analogue (Ferraris) meters which serve NZ’s home and businesses are being replaced with new electronic “smart” or “advanced” meters. These new meters collect data about electricity use and then transmit it back to the electricity company through a wireless link. Many of the “smart meters” in NZ transmit via the Vodafone GSM network, while others use the 1,800MHz band. (If you are wondering about whether the fact that many “smart meters” use the same transmission frequency bands as cell phones may mean that “smart meters” may pose similar risks to health, keep reading.)
Meter readers are gradually losing their jobs with the introduction of this new technology. The promise of reduced labour costs is obviously attractive to electricity companies in NZ’s competitive deregulated retail market. Another potential benefit to electricity and lines companies is having real time data about electricity consumption.
Another, less obvious benefit to companies in the electricity industry is the data gathered by the “smart meters”. This data can be very detailed as shown at this link: http://smartmeterpowerstruggle.wordpress.com/ . Selling the data gathered by “smart meters” could potentially offer another income stream to any company with access to the data, and the legal right to sell such data. It is interesting to note that in their Terms and Conditions both Genesis and its subsidiary EnergyOnline claim ownership of data accumulated by the “smart meters” in their customers’ homes and businesses.
On the face of it, this is a frank assault on people’s privacy…but there is no public outcry, perhaps because virtually none of these companies’ customers have read the fine print in the Terms and Conditions.
Probably even fewer have considered the potential consequences if the information gathered by “smart meters” ends up in the wrong hands, for example, through hacking or a dishonest employee who has access to the data. Given that patterns of activity within a home can be inferred from the data from a “smart meter”, in the hands of criminals this information could be used to plan, for example, a burglary at a time when they know no one is home.
But wait, as the saying goes, there’s more…for the electricity industry, that is. (A major US utility, North East Utilities recently admitted that there is “no evidence” that a “smart meter” is “a good choice for customers”.See: http://www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/government-and-electricity-industry-positions/major-us-utility-says-no-rational-basis-for-smart-meters/)
The introduction of “smart meters” is often associated with higher electricity bills. This is commonly blamed on the previous analogue meter’s supposed inaccuracy; however, there is another possible explanation, and that is that “smart meters” can measure not only the electricity actually used by lights and appliances in a home, but also
“reactive power”. Reactive power exists essentially as a contaminant on the electrical supply. This “reactive power” is useless in that it cannot be used by appliances, but if its presence in a home or building can be measured and included in the bill, bills will naturally rise, even with no increase in electricity consumption.
Moreover, “smart meters” can be used to facilitate the introduction of “time-of-use” metering, in which customers are charged different tariffs at different times of the day. In practice, this means that companies can choose to set tariffs so that customers with “smart meters” are charged more for electricity when it is most needed.With time-of-use pricing, a typical family’s electricity bill could easily rise even if they do not increase their electricity consumption.
Perhaps no other aspect of the numerous issues surrounding “smart meters” (other than the potential health effects) has been spun as often (and to date, as successfully) as the “time-of-use” metering.
If the average New Zealander realised that having their analogue meter replaced with an electronic “smart” or “advanced” meter was likely to mean that their electricity company could charge them more for electricity from 7am – 11 pm and from 4 or 5pm – 9 pm (if not immediately, then some time in the not-too-distant future) no one would want a “smart meter”. However, the spin doctors have gone to town to sell what would in normal circumstances a completely unpalatable proposition.
For example, WEL in the Waikato extolls its “smart box” system (WEL Smart Networks April 2014 Update.pdf):
“Our Smart Network has enabled the introduction of optional pricing in the way it is able to measure site-specific information allowing us to introduce different prices for consumption based on off-peak or on-peak hours. We have offered retailers time-of-use pricing plans with the option of passing this flexible pricing model on to customers, empowering our customers with more control options over their energy consumption.” [Emphasis added](WEL Smart Networks April 2014 Update.pdf).
Time-of-use pricing is, of course, in practice far from “empowering”.“Stressful” or even“financially crippling” would be more accurate, depending on people’s circumstances. At present only a few companies in NZ offer pricing plans with “time-of-use” tariffs, and these are optional.
Don’t count on time-of-use pricing to remain optional, however, or for the government to come to the rescue of struggling households (or businesses that cannot change the time of day at which they need to use electricity, and therefore face excessive costs.) No, the government is all for the “smart grid”.
In a report by the Electricity Commission, “Advanced Metering Infrastructure in New Zealand: Roll-out and Requirements” (3 Dec. 2009) the purported benefits of “smart meters” are extolled:
“‘Smart’ electricity meters, and the infrastructure that accompanies them, can provide a richer information base with which consumers can make better decisions about electricity use. The functionality in ‘smart’ electricity meters allows consumers to participate in the electricity market by allowing them to respond to market signals by altering their consumption patterns.”
“Those ‘smarter’ meters can also provide better information to electricity lines companies about network performance and consumers consumption patterns, allowing better management of networks and more informed investment decisions. ‘Smarter’ meters can also allow retailers to offer a range of tariff options to consumers that:
“(a) financially incentivises consumers to respond to market signals in the form of tariff pricing by altering their consumption patterns to reduce delivered electricity cost;
“(b) allows tariff changes to be carried out remotely. Before smart meter technology, changing tariffs required a site visit and a physical change of meter; and
“(c) provides information to consumers that allows them to choose the best pricing plan for them.” [Emphasis added]
The Electricity Commission considers this differential pricing to be beneficial because it will force people to use less electricity at peak times as many people won’t be able to afford it. This allows the electricity industry to reap the profits from time-of-use pricing while delaying investment in any new generation capacity needed if NZ’s population continues to increase. (Too bad if air pollution in cities increases because people can’t afford to run electric heaters on winter afternoons and evenings and therefore burn coal instead or people in low income households can’t afford to eat hot meals.)
It’s easy to see why the electricity industry is keen on “smart meters”; lower labour costs, the ability to charge more for electricity when it is most needed, another potential income stream from selling data to third parties…what could be better…if you are a profit-driven industry ?
But what about families and small businesses? How do ordinary New Zealanders fit into the picture? Do “smart meters” offer any advantages to consumers?
Access to real-time data about electricity use can be helpful to people who want to better understand their energy use, and some monitoring systems allow for alarms to be sent to householders when electricity use increases above a certain threshold, such as may occur when an appliance is left running by mistake. However, it is doubtful that being able to refer to data from a “smart meter” will have much of an impact on household consumption in homes in which good habits relating to electricity use have already been established. No one needs a “smart meter” to make sensible, everyday decisions to conserve electricity and thus minimise their electricity bill.
The evidence to date shows that consumers stand to lose through the introduction of “smart meters”. Higher bills (and the attendant financial stress) are just one of the potential risks from “smart meters”. Everywhere in the world where wireless “smart meters” have been introduced, people have reported adverse health effects following “smart meter” installations.
One organisation active in warning their community against “smart meters”, the Maine Coalition to Stop Smart Meters organised a formal online survey of health effects. This survey did not attempt to establish the prevalence of adverse reactions to the non-ionising radiation produced by “smart meters”; which would have been considerably more expensive and time-consuming. Instead, the study aimed to assess the type of symptoms associated with “smart meter” emissions. The results were concerning.
The majority of people (59%) were not electrosensitive (ES) prior to the installation of the “smart meter” and 82% reported their health was “good” or “excellent” prior to the installation of the “smart meter”. People were affected in different ways by the “smart meters”; however, according to the summary of the results of the study, “Reports of insomnia, tinnitus, pressure in the head, difficulty concentrating, headaches and heart arrhythmia were particularly common.”
(Similar symptoms, including headaches, tinnitus, sleeping difficulties and heart palpitations, have been reported to www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz by New Zealanders who have had a “smart meter” installed at their home.)
In the survey organised by the Maine Coalition to Stop Smart Meters, a nocebo affect could be ruled out for a lot of participants because many of the survey participants (42%) developed symptoms before they knew that a “smart meter” had been installed. Moreover 63% of the participants had not been concerned about “smart meters” before they developed the “smart meter” – associated symptoms.
The good news was that when the “smart meter” was removed, 91% experienced an improvement in their health. However, some had ongoing problems even after the “smart meter” was removed; exposure to the radiofrequency radiation produced by the “smart meter” appeared to have caused a more generalised sensitivity to non-ionising radiation, resulting in symptoms from exposure to other sources of RFR which were previously tolerated such as cell phones and/or Wi-Fi.(See: http://www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/latest-news/survey-of-people-adversely-affected-by-smart-meters/)
People who react with acute symptoms following the installation of a “smart meter” are probably in a minority; although symptoms can be so diverse that there may be many people adversely affected by a “smart meter” in their home (or by neighbours’ “smart meters”) who may not realise what is causing their symptoms.
It may be that people who react adversely to the RFR produced by “smart meters” could in some respects be considered lucky – since they will take active measures to reduce their exposure to EMR. This may not be the case for people who can tolerate the RFR from “smart meters” without obvious symptoms, who may therefore remain exposed to high levels of RFR over the long term. Given that the RFR in the microwave spectrum produced by “smart meters” has been classified as a possible carcinogen (type 2b) the by World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) prolonged exposure to RFR from “smart meters” may constitute a cancer risk.In fact, there is already a case in the USA in which a resident of Long Beach, California attributes a throat cancer that he has developed to the RFR from “smart meters” installed at his home, close to the desk where he works. Known only as “JN”, this man shared his story on the US-based website www.stopsmartmeters.org. As he relates:
“It was not long after [the installation of a “smart meter”, to which he had agreed] that when I started to notice that I had developed a constant ringing in my ears and was always fatigued along with heart palpitations but I couldn’t figure out why I might be having these issues. I went and had my hearing tested and was diagnosed with tinnitus.”
Subsequently JN decided to upgrade the antiquated electrical system in his home:
“The upgrade took a couple of weeks to complete. The new meter panel along with the smart meter now sat right outside one of the bedrooms where I have a music studio. I spend most of my time there – usually from early morning to late in the evening. The way my computer desk was set up put me directly in front of the smart meter- about 4 feet away from where I would sit most of the time.”
“In about May of 2012, after about a month of sitting in front of the smart meter, I noticed on the right side of my neck what looked like a burn. Later my skin looked like it had been cooked. The burn was about 2 inches long by about a half inch wide. Shortly after that I reported it to my doctor at the VA Medical Center and was given Triamcinolone AcetonideCream to apply. It took close to maybe a month before the burn cleared up but then I started noticing that I was having a problem swallowing pills.”
After ongoing health problems, JN was diagnosed with cancer of the throat. He had been previously healthy; a non-smoker and a non-drinker, not a heavy user of cellular or cordless phones and was careful about what he ate. The latter part of his post includes quite graphic descriptions of treatments he was undergoing for his cancer.
An interesting feature of JN’s story is that the “smart meter” that was installed at his home looked like an analogue meter. Such “Trojan horse” “smart meters” have been previously reported on by www.stopsmartmeters.org(See this link http://www.eiwellspring.org/smartmeter/StealthMeters.htm.) I am not aware of electricity companies in NZ stepping to such lengths to deceive their customers into accepting “smart meters” – but perhaps that is due to the fact that most New Zealanders in areas where “smart meters” have been installed have not objected to receiving a “smart meter”.
In the United States, there has been more opposition to “smart meter” roll outs, due to a large number of community groups dedicated to informing their fellow citizens about “smart meter” risks, and numerous community screenings of the award-winning “smart meter” documentary Take Back Your Power.Here in NZ, resistance to “smart meter” roll outs has been slow to gain momentum. Part of the reason for this may be attributed to NZ companies that are involved in the “smart meter” roll out having learned from mistakes made by their counterparts in the electricity industry overseas. Recently, Julian Crawford, who is the leader of the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party, described to me how he attended a marketing department seminar in 2013 at the University of Otago which featured Beth Karlin from the US-based Center for Unconventional Security Affairs. Ms Karlin, he stated, reported that “smart meters had met a lot of resistance in the US and she was working on communicating about smart meters in a way that would make their roll-out smoother in New Zealand.
“She dismissed the health concerns as essentially conspiracy theories but failed to address the privacy concerns. She promoted smartmeters as a way for people to monitor their own usage and see which appliances are using the most power. It’s based on an environmental angle of reducing power consumption.
“Beth spoke about how Mercury Energy was rolling outsmart meters to all homes regardless of whether the customer wanted them. This would be followed by the larger power companies. They aim to bring them in quietly with as little resistance as possible.”
Companies in NZ are able to legally install “smart meters” even though the RFR that they produce is a possible carcinogen because the government standard that governs the emission of RFR in the microwave range, NS2772.1: 1999, is designed to protect against thermal effects and shocks, rather than other potential adverse effects from exposure to microwave radiation, such as DNA damage, or cancer, for example.
The electricity industry has effectively been effectively using NS2772.1: 1999 as a shield against criticism or public concern about exposure to RFR. Banking on the public trust in government standards, and the general ignorance about the very limited protection (i.e. from thermal effects and shocks) offered by NS2772.1: 1999, companies promoting “smart meters” often express the strength of pulses produced by “smart meters” as a percentage of NS2772.1:1999.
Given that that at the 900 MHz frequency band in which many “smart meters” operate, NS2772.1: 1999 is in the region of approximately 4,500,000 microwatts per square metre, many of the emissions from many “smart meters” can be expressed as small percentages of the standard. However, that does not mean that the emissions are harmless. A document from the website of lines company Network Tasman Ltd, which has begun installing Landis+Gyr E350 series “smart meters” in Golden Bay states that one foot away from a “silver spring”- enabled “smart meter” (such as may occur in the case of a meter mounted on a bedroom wall) someone is exposed to 8.8 microwatts per square cm (or 88,000 microwatts per square metre). This is approximately 2% of the applicable NZ standard for RFR exposure.
These Landis+Gyr “smart meters” are also being installed by Counties Power in the South Auckland region and WEL Networks Ltd in the Waikato, this latter company choosing to call the meters “smart boxes”.
In a recent publication “Network Update 2014” WEL Networks Ltd boasted that the “refusal rate” for its “smart boxes” was less than 1%. This may reflect not only clever marketing but the fact that the company’s website includes the following statement: “This requirement for meter replacement is regulated by the NZ Government and must be completed nationally by 2015.” Naturally people in the WEL Networks Ltd area who do not know that there is in fact NO government law or regulation requiring anyone to accept a “smart meter” could accept the statement on WEL Networks’ website at face value and believe that the installation of a “smart box” is compulsory.
While “smart meters” are designed to produce RFR intermittently, rather than constantly, the amount of RFR produced by the “smart meter” being promoted by Network Tasman Ltd is not trivial. To put the figure of 88,000 microwatts per square meter into context, the upper limit for exposure to RFR suggested by the scientists who collaborated on the BioInitiative Report (www.bioinititative.org) is 1,000 microwatts per square metre.
The guidelines used by people trained in Building Biology considers any exposure to RFR over 1,000 microwatts per square metre to be of “extreme concern”. (See http://www.emfacts.com/2008/07/910-building-biology-evaluation-guidelines/)
Moreover, while pulses of RFR from “smart meters” are usually brief, they can be frequent; as often as 7- 10 times per minutes in some cases, equating to 1,000s of pulses over 24 hours.(See: http://www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/government-and-electricity-industry-positions/answers-to-questions-from-network-tasman-ltd-part-1/)
Very little independent testing of in-use “smart meters” has been done in NZ; the testing that has been done has shown quite variable transmission patterns which may reflect the variety of different brands of “smart meter” on the NZ market – and the fact that “smart meters” here may not be operating at their potential capacity, given that the roll out is still in progress.
How much exposure to RFR does it take to cause cancer or other symptoms? The answer to this question is that no one knows. The “roll outs” of “smart meters” around the world in NZ and other countries could be considered a huge biological experiment on the human race – and other living beings in our environment.
About the author: Katherine Smith is the editor of The NZ Journal of Natural Medicine. Designed as a “serious but accessible” publication for health professionals and the public alike The NZ Journal of Natural Medicine features articles about a diverse range of subjects relating to the maintenance of good health and recovery from illness and injury, including articles on electromagnetic radiation and health.
Katherine founded www.stopsmartmeters.org.nzin 2012. The website contains a large amount of information about the “smart meter” situation in NZ, and website visitors have the option of signing up to a free email list so that they can be kept up to date on this important issue. The results of the www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz 2014 election questionnaire will be posted on the website shortly.