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[February 20, 2013]
Utility Board encouraged by Texas PUC report on advanced meters
Feb 20, 2013 (Lubbock Avalanche-Journal - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- A recent Texas Public Utility commission report studying the health effects of advanced metering technology is a seeming thumbs up to Lubbock leaders exploring the technology.
Lubbock's Utility Board on Tuesday continued its research and discussion on installing advanced metering technology on Lubbock Power & Light and the city's 100,000 electric and water meters, with Chairman Gail Kring asking the board to review the December utility commission report ahead of presentations from meter vendors this spring.
But Lubbock residents opposing the new technology are quick to question the study, concerned by health problems and invasion of privacy concerns they insist aren't addressed.
"Our privacy is being invaded and our health is being put at risk by these smart meters," Lubbock resident Susan Kester told the Avalanche-Journal after attending Tuesday's meeting.
LP&L staff and utility board members for months have pushed advanced meters as a potential cost saver that could increase efficiency by allowing crews to pinpoint the exact location of an outage and eliminate the need for meter readers to go door to door.
"The technology is safe," Kring said. "This would be a cost-effective move." The Public Utility Commission's Dec. 17 "Report on Health and Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields from Advanced Meters" compiles studies and research from such organizations as the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the World Health Organization and the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, according to the report.
"Staff has determined that the large body of scientific research reveals no definite or proven biological effects from exposure to low-level radio frequency signals," the report states. "Further, staff found no credible evidence to suggest that advanced meters emit harmful amounts of electromagnetic field." The report cites World Health Organization research concluding there is no scientific basis to link electromagnetic field exposure to health conditions from people who report being especially susceptible to such signals.
"It has suggested that symptoms experienced by some individuals described as electromagnetic hypersensitive might arise from environmental factors unrelated to electromagnetic field or that the symptoms may be due to pre-existing psychiatric conditions or stress reactions resulting from worry about EMF health effects, rather than the EMF exposure itself," the report states.
The commission's report warns against making conclusions based on anecdotal evidence of health problems -- concerns Lubbockites such as Kester and anti-advanced meter activist Burley Owen said they want Lubbock's Utility Board and City Council to consider.
Kester described health problems she and friends suspect they've had because of advanced meters and other electronic equipment.
She said she's experienced dizziness and light-headedness when she's visited friends in Lubbock County who have advanced meters on their homes as customers of South Plains Electric Cooperative.
At Owen's advice, Kester said she recently started trying to limit her exposure to radio waves and other signals, removing her cellphone from her bedside and turning off her wireless Internet at night.
"I've been sleeping for a change," she said.
"If they put a smart meter in my house, it's going to increase all of the problems I've had," Kester said.
Several citizens spoke during the Jan. 31 City Council meeting, warning city leaders to consider unknown but potentially harmful side effects from the technology, including privacy concerns and health hazards from the signals meters emit.
Many smart meters send signals with data about power consumption to the utility company, said Lubbock Power & Light CEO Gary Zheng. But the signals emitted are at a frequency less than a cordless or cellular phone, he said.
Owen urged city leaders to investigate potential health hazards before committing to the project.
"There has been very little research on smart meters other than by the utilities themselves," he said.
Owen said he wants the council to know there are opponents to advanced meters in the city, promoting a local anti-advanced meter website, www.lubbockagainstsmartmeters.com.
LP&L staff have estimated it could cost about $20 million to replace all 100,000 LP&L meters.
The estimated price tag comes from several vendors of the meters LP&L staff have spoken to, said Chris Sims, an LP&L spokesman.
It's unclear how much more including smart meters for each water meter would add to the cost.
Nearly 88 percent, or about 5.98 million of a total of 6.8 million meters in the state's competitive markets, use advanced metering technology, according to the Texas Public Utilities Commission.
Competitive markets aren't owned by a municipality like Lubbock, Austin or San Antonio.
In August, South Plains Electric Cooperative completed replacing 47,000 traditional electric meters with advanced meters. The traditional instruments cost $30; the new ones $100 each, according to the cooperative. South Plains' project began in 2000.
The meters allow utility companies an option of offering customers time-of-day electric rate choices, such as lowering rates during low-usage overnight hours.
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