• 21 NOV 10
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    1324: PG&E (California) considers SmartMeter compromise

    From Sage Associates:

    PG&E considers SmartMeter compromise

    David R. Baker, Chronicle Staff Writer

    Saturday, November 20, 2010

    Pacific Gas and Electric Co. is considering options for customers who fear that the utility’s new, wireless SmartMeters jeopardize their health, although company representatives won’t say what those might be.

    “We want those customers to understand that we take their concerns seriously,” said PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith. “We’re still in a preliminary stage of review, including weighing the costs of any options. We will make this information public in the coming months as we develop it.”

    Until now, San Francisco’s PG&E has responded to questions about the meters’ possible health effects by insisting that the devices are safe – and by continuing installation. People who say they are sensitive to radiation from cell phones, laptop computers and other wireless devices have demanded a moratorium on the $2.2 billion SmartMeter program, only to be rebuffed by the company and state regulators.

    The issue, however, has not gone away.

    A scientific organization that advises the California Legislature on technical issues is expected to release a preliminary report on one aspect of the SmartMeter health debate in mid-December. The consumer advocacy branch of the California Public Utilities Commission recommended this week that the commission, which oversees PG&E, study whether the meters can threaten public health.

    The idea that wireless devices can cause cancer and other illnesses remains hotly disputed. But in an interview Friday in the San Jose Mercury News, PG&E Chief Executive Officer Peter Darbee said the company is looking for a “compromise solution” for people who consider the devices a health risk. He didn’t elaborate.

    For months, PG&E critics have suggested two main alternatives: allowing customers to opt out of the SmartMeter program and keep their old electricity and gas meters, or using SmartMeters that transmit their data through wires. Smith declined to say Friday whether either possibility was under consideration.

    Possible risks to public

    Michael Peevey, president of the utilities commission, said he had suggested to PG&E executives that they find some way to address the concerns of people who say they suffer from “electrosensitivity.” He did not want to say which options he had suggested.

    “My personal view is that PG&E ought to consider some means to address people who sincerely believe they’re affected,” Peevey said.

    In July, Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, asked the California Council on Science and Technology to examine whether the federal limits on radiation from wireless devices, including SmartMeters, adequately protect the public. The council sent him an update Monday, saying a preliminary report should be ready by mid-December, and the final version could come in early January.

    The council, which draws experts from California’s universities and national laboratories, has been reviewing the current literature on advanced meters and wireless health questions as well as soliciting input from specialists in the field, according to the update.

    Seeking separate study

    Sandi Maurer, founder of the EMF Safety Network, said she was pleased that the council was studying the issue. But she still wants the utilities commission to do its own investigation.

    Her group filed a formal request with the commission this year asking for a detailed study of the intensity of the radiation emitted by PG&E’s meters and the cumulative radiation exposure PG&E customers could face. The network also wants public hearings on the possible health effects of these devices. PG&E customers have been contacting the network, blaming the new meters for headaches, sleep disorders and painful ringing in the ears.

    Maurer said that allowing individuals to opt out of the SmartMeter program wouldn’t be enough to protect electrosensitive people, because other meters would still be transmitting nearby.

    “It’s like, ‘We’ll do your whole town, we’ll just skip your house,’ ” she said. “That won’t work.”

    E-mail David R. Baker at dbaker@sfchronicle.com.


    This article appeared on page D – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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