This article has been updated with the following statement from Pacific Power regarding the grounding in smart meters: “Grounding/surge suppression doesn't happen in the meter, a smart meter or a legacy meter connects to the customer owned meter base – which is grounded.”

Installation of “Smart” meters began this week in Siskiyou County.

The new meters will replace existing “analog” meters that require on-site readings to determine a customer’s energy use. With the new meters, a customer’s energy use can be monitored daily, even hourly, from a remote location by the utility.

While saving labor costs, the utility also touts the new meters as a boon to customers who will be able to keep closer tabs on their energy use. Pacific Power representative Monte Mendenhall says it will cost the utility, and the customer, less to start new service, since that can now be done remotely and not by having to send out a service representative.

Siskiyou County is one of the last counties in the state to get smart meters. Already about 70 million of them have been installed throughout the US.

Some local Pacific Power customers who’ve studied the new technology say there’s a downside to the new meters, and they are urging fellow customers to exercise an “opt out” option before the new meters are installed.

There is a concern, among other things, about a potential fire hazard. John Hill, a retired electrical engineer who recently moved to Dunsmuir, notes that the new meters lack the surge protection that the older, analog meters have, and William Bathgate, an electrical engineer with 40 years’ experience working with high-tech power systems, agrees.

But Pacific Power says there is no difference in how the two different types of meters are grounded. “Grounding/surge suppression,” according Pacific Power, "doesn’t happen in the meter, a smart meter or a legacy meter connects to the customer owned meter base – which is grounded.”

Still, some home fires attributed to smart meters have been reported in California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Nevada.

Cory Estlund is supervising installation of the new meters in our area. He acknowledges that there have been fires in the past associated with smart meters, but says those involved early, “first generation” devices and that the latest “fourth and fifth” generation smart meters won’t have the problems associated with the older ones, that the new ones meet safety standards set by the Federal Communications Commission and Underwriter Laboratories, an independent testing facility.

There are also concerns about potential health impacts. Smart meters, like cell phones and microwave ovens, emit radio frequencies that are a form of radiation. A recent study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health has linked exposure to this type of radio emission with two forms of cancer. The emissions have also been linked to less serious disorders that include insomnia and headaches. Because of these health concerns, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine has called for a moratorium on the installation of smart meters.

Much has been published on this subject, both pro and con, in recent years. One industry-sponsored white paper assures smart meter customers that “actual Radio Frequency emissions from smart meters are significantly lower than commonly used devices such as cell phones, laptop computers, microwave ovens and baby monitors.”

Pacific Power’s Estlund says that exposure to radiation is minimized by pointing the meter’s antenna away from buildings.

Customers who choose not to have smart meters installed will face a monthly charge for a manual reading of their analog meters. That fee will likely be $20 a month, according to a preliminary decision by an administrative law judge at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

That decision is subject to the formal approval of the state utilities commission sometime this summer or fall. The judge also approved a one-time $75 opt-out fee for those who choose not to have smart meters, but, according to the commission's Ratepayer Advocate, Brian Goldman, customers opting out before the smart meter rollout begins will not have to pay that one-time fee. A final decision on the opt-out fees will also be made by the commission later this year.

Vicki Gold of Mount Shasta is another concerned utility customer who’s studied numerous reports on the new meters.

“Look at all the products and technologies we were told were safe: tobacco, asbestos, nuclear power, DDT, until it was proved otherwise,” she says. “We are hearing from many neuroscientists and physicians about the biological effects of wireless radiation. They are alarmed about the health impacts of that radiation.”

Gold feels there are enough serious questions about the health impacts of radiation from smart meters to require, at least, a moratorium on their further installation.

• There’s lots of information out there on smart meters, but here’s a start: You can go to Pacific Power’s information site at www.pacificpower.net/smartmeter or call them at 866-869-8520. That’s also the number to call for customers who want to opt out of smart meter installation. Dr. Debra Greene provides a 20-minute introduction to opposition research and arguments in her 20-minute YouTube video, “Smart Meters – What They Don’t Want You To Know.” Also there’s “Ted Talk: Wireless Wake-up Call” by Jeromy Johnson, also on YouTube.