PG&E's SmartMeter on display at the payment center on Folsom.

Smart meters, already installed in 7.5 million homes, have been the subject of two scientific studies, a state bill and numerous community meetings. Still, consumers are wary: Are they unhealthy? Will they give PG&E access to too much information?

To demonstrate the benefits of smart meters, PG&E set up a customer education station on Wednesday from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the payment center at 2225 Folsom Street, and will do so again today.

A PG&E customer service representative on standby to demonstrate how smart meters work.

But only a lone reporter visited the station in the first hour on Wednesday. At the Home Depot-like display, a smart meter’s screen blinked while performing a complicated kilowatt calculation of the power used by two 100-watt lightbulbs plus a space heater and a customer service representative’s laptop computer plugged into the panel. 1.16 kW, it said at one second. 1.46 kW, it said the next, and so on.

“If you were running your washing machine between 2 and 3 p.m. today, you can go online tomorrow and see how much energy you were consuming,” said PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith. He emphasized that the new meters can give customers a better idea of how much they will owe PG&E before they get their bills.

Customers could also use their smart meter to identify energy-sapping appliances in their homes and unplug or replace them to use less energy and reduce their bills.

The meter’s display shows, in big numbers, how many kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy the consumer has used since the meter was installed; a smaller, three-digit number shows how many kilowatts the home is using at the moment. The meter also wirelessly transmits the data directly to PG&E.

Those radio frequency transmissions have made smart meters controversial, and their unpopularity has led city and county governments in Marin, Santa Cruz and elsewhere to symbolically ban their installation.  (They do not actually have the authority to stop PG&E from installing the meters.)

Responding to pressure from the public, California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) President Michael Peevey has given PG&E until the end of the month to propose an opt-out program for consumers.

Assembly member Jared Huffman, D-Marin, introduced AB 37 in December to force PG&E to offer an alternative to customers who do opt out. A hearing is scheduled for April 4.

But are they dangerous?

Smart meters emit less radio frequency than cell phones and do not pose any identifiable health risk, according to a study by the California Council on Science and Technology.

“You’d have to have a smart meter on your home or business for a thousand years to get as much exposure to radio frequency as you get from a cell phone in one month,” said Smith.

Smart meters only transmit information to PG&E for a total of 45 seconds per day, he said.

Consumers’ privacy concerns remain. The new meters report energy usage by day, while traditional meters report it by the month.

“The pattern of energy usage can show you what appliances were in use, and you can see when somebody is home,” said Lee Tien, the senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). “I think that a lot of [data] analysis is going to happen.”

The EFF, concerned with what PG&E might do with smart meter data in the future, is attempting to get the CPUC to adopt stricter consumer privacy rules.

“The extent to which this kind of information could violate people’s privacy is pretty great,” said Tien. “The details of what is happening inside your home should be nobody’s business but your own.”

PG&E maintains that smart meter information is protected from interception by unauthorized third parties, and that the new meter’s data collection is not significantly different from the old meter’s — other than that it is faster in delivering information to customers. “We’ve worked with the leading cyber-security experts in the industry to make sure our customer’s information is safe,” said Smith.

But Tien is wary of the interest that corporations like Google and Verizon have shown in seeing consumers’ energy usage data.

“It’s like when you weigh yourself. Every homeowner is going to want to see how they’re doing, but should everyone else get to see how you’re doing?”

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J.J. Barrow began reporting for Mission Local in 2010. She once rode the 49 Van Ness-Mission for six hours straight while the rest of the city tuned in to the World Series — until revelry ended the route. She misses hiding in Guerrero's quiet Cafe Petra (now defunct) to write.

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    1. Please, Install smart meters on your home. They only transmit 10x the power of a cell phone in a frequency band deemed too dangerous for all but class 2 nations (includes the US of course). Perhaps outside your or your childs bedroom. Bursting spreads-pectrum inclusive of 915MHZ (look that one up) 24 hours a day, any hydrogen based matter (like water) resonates at that frequency.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsuP_WBBr2c – check out the field strength of 2000mV/m with each burst. That’ll break down cells over time. It’s not the power – could be 100 watts on another frequency for all that matters and there would not be an issue, but certain frequencies (like 915MHZ) have a detremental effect on certain matter (ex. your microwave). They only use that frequency because it’s in the unlicensed spectrum and it cost them nothing to use it. Consumer products abandoned those frequencies twenty plus years ago.

  1. 1. INSURANCE COMPANIES WON’T INSURE THE HEALTH PROBLEMS FROM WIRELESS Smart Meters

    And Insurance companies don’t sacrifice insurance premiums ($$$) for no reason.

    TV NEWS VIDEO – Insurance Companies Won’t Insure Wireless Device Health Risks (3 minutes, 13 seconds)
    http://eon3emfblog.net/?p=382

    2. WIRELESS SMART METERS TRANSMIT RADIATION APPROXIMATELY 25,000 TIMES PER DAY, 24/7, not 45 seconds per day as claimed by Utility Company.

    VIDEO – Radiation Measured From Smart Meter Mounted On A Home (6 minutes, 21 seconds)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uRejDxBE6OE

    3. CELL DAMAGE, DNA BREAKS & BREACHES IN THE BLOOD-BRAIN BARRIER observed in laboratory tests from low levels of pulsed RF signal radiation as emitted by Wireless smart meters – reported by Top Wireless radiation scientists in the world at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco Nov 18, 2010:
    VIDEO – http://electromagnetichealth.org/electromagnetic-health-blog/cc-video/

    4. THE KAROLINSKA INSTITUTE IN STOCKHOLM THAT GIVES NOBEL PRIZES ISSUES GLOBAL WARNING AGAINST WIRELESS SMART METERS.
    2-page Press Release:
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/48148346/Karolinska-Institute-Press-Release

    Approximately 2,000 peer reviewed reports exist supporting more friendly consumer videos above.

      1. From video #3, you can start with the peer reviewed reports by those scientists speaking on that video. And their reports reference many of the other peer reviewed reports – hope this helps you.

        I would be interested on your comments from the videos offered. What do you think about the information delivered on each video, particularly the scientists reporting?

        1. I’m not going to waste my time watching some conspiracy theorists blather on about stuff they know nothing about.

          If you’re not going to link me to real research, then stop insisting the research exists.

          1. To: MrEricSir

            I personally checked out the scientists on video #3 and each has high quality University or other appropriate organization affiliation and many are world renowned, such as Columbia University, UC Berkeley, etc. And some are reporting on their peer reviewed reports.

            For my own interest, I personally have obtained additionally a hard copy of a partial sample listing (34 pages double sided) of peer reviewed reports on this subject, but I was initially introduced to the subject with short videos for a more effective approach than starting with #1 of 2,000 peer reviewed reports.

            Others have told me that you may likely be a PG&E shill, since you offer nothing, no information, but rather throw out challenges and words of conspiracy without even looking at a single 3-minute video or press release that was selected in context of what you had asked.

            I do not know that you are a PG&E shill, I prefer to think the best of people. But I won’t communicate with you further as I have only drawn out your anger – sorry about that.
            Best to you.
            RW.

          2. Again, you’ve failed to provide information that supports your points, and instead resulted to baseless personal attacks. This is the lowest form of argument and is disgusting. You’re not helping your “cause.”

            I think it’s pretty clear that you’re not interested in debate or anything that contradicts your conspiracy theories.

  2. Smart meters are very dangerous and the CCST report alluded to above was conducted by a nonprofit with a direct conflict, a tie to the US Dept of Energy (architect of the smart meter plan). Listen to the experts: “…the inauguration of smart meters with grudging and involuntary exposure of millions to billions of human beings to pulsed microwave radiation should immediately be prohibited…” Olle Johansson, PhD, Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institute (Sweden) “…we are creating a potential time bomb. If smart meters are placed on every home, they will contribute significantly to our exposure and this is both unwise and unsafe.”; Magda Havas, PhD, Professor of Environmental & Resource Studies, Trent University (Canada); The benefit of the smart meters is entirely to the utilities, and is economic in nature. ..The evidence for adverse effects of radiofrequency radiation is currently strong and grows stronger with each new study. Wired meters with shielded cable do not increase exposure. The report clearly indicates that “smart meters could conceivably be adapted to non-wireless transmission of data. However, retrofitting millions of smart meters with hard-wired technology could be difficult and costly.” Clearly the answer to this dilemma is not to install wireless smart meters to begin with. (David Carpenter, MD, University at Albany, NY). Dr. Carpenter calls the CCST report “faulty”. THIS ISN’T ABOUT SENSITIVITIES IT IS ABOUT THE PUBLIC HEALTH FOR ALL OF YOU, INCLUDING THOSE WHO DON’T KNOW ENOUGH TO BE WORRIED. http://www.smartmeterdangers.org/index.php/position-statements/80-health-effects-smartmeters-ccst

    1. Note how none of those quotes or anything listed on that page are from scientific journals, universities, or peer-reviewed sources.

      You’d might as well tell me the moon landing was faked or that 9/11 was an inside job. Lunacy is lunacy, no matter what the message.

    2. Susan – As MrEricSir pointed out, your evidence is a joke. I also hope you wrote that comment with pencil + paper and walked it over to Mission Loc@l offices… god forbid you’d use a computer which EMITS poison!