California Town Enacts Ban on Wireless SmartMeters

31 12 2010

Fairfax enacts ban on ‘SmartMeter’ installation

Posted: 08/05/2010 12:17:47 PM PDT
The Fairfax Town Council unanimously approved an ordinance banning the installation of remote-controlled utility meters within the town’s borders Wednesday despite a last-minute promise by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. that it would stop installing its trademarked SmartMeters in Fairfax.“As a company, we plan to hold off on any further deployment in the Town of Fairfax until we are able to help educate your public,” PG&E spokesman Josh Townsend said before the Fairfax Town Council. “We know we’ve had problems in communicating what SmartMeters are and how they work, and we’re looking forward to taking the opportunity to really do that.” 

The utility’s offer was welcomed by Fairfax leaders, who had expressed concerns about the safety, accuracy and data collection abilities of the wireless devices. The council previously had asked the state Public Utilities Commission to place a moratorium on SmartMeter installation and had invoked the town’s cell tower ordinance to block PG&E from installing antennas that transmit SmartMeter data within the town’s borders.

“This is a welcome and significant shift in how this debate has been going,” said Fairfax Mayor Lew Tremaine, who met privately with PG&E officials Wednesday afternoon. “I appreciate the fact that PG&E has agreed to stop deployment in town until we have these conversations. We’ll listen to what (they) have to say – we won’t swallow it whole cloth – but we’ll listen, if (they’ll) listen to us.”

Yet PG&E refused to say how long the company would wait before continuing the installation process. Townsend acknowledged that the company had already installed 200 of the 8,000 wireless meters intended for Fairfax.

And the company’s olive branch did little to convince many Fairfax residents, who urged the council to impose its moratorium. Many expressed anger at the utility for both the SmartMeter installation and the company’s earlier ballot campaign to defeat Marin Clean Energy, a plan to create an alternate, county-owned utility that has found particular support in Fairfax.

“In pushing Proposition 16, PG&E showed its real face,” said Cascade Drive resident David Glick. “The company doesn’t really give a damn about promoting green energy or reducing our carbon footprint. And their insistence on deploying wireless SmartMeters shows how little concern they have for the health and safety of the public.”

PG&E has argued that its SmartMeters will help reduce overall energy consumption by providing the utility with detailed information about the ways its customers use electricity and gas. But the company has been plagued with reports that the wireless devices inaccurately report gas and electricity usage since the company began installing the meters in 2009.

In addition, critics have argued that the electromagnetic radiation produced by the devices could be dangerous – an assertion that the company has vigorously disputed.

“My general impression thus far is that the emission levels are not much stronger than your average cell phone site a block or two away,” said Stephen Scott, a remediation specialist at EMF Services, a Florida-based electromagnetic field measurement consulting firm. “But it’s one more part of a growing wireless environment people are concerned about.”

The Town Council approved its moratorium on SmartMeter installation by a vote of 4-0, with Councilman John Reed absent from the meeting. Because the ordinance was adopted as an urgency item on the council’s agenda, the council was able to adopt it with a single reading, Town Manager Michael Rock said.

Fairfax is hardly alone in its opposition to SmartMeters. Marin supervisors asked the California Public Utilities Commission on July 20 to suspend PG&E’s $2.2 billion installation program until the commission completes an ongoing review of the device’s accuracy. The Marin Association of Realtors has also called for a moratorium on SmartMeter installation, as have the cities and towns of Cotati, Scotts Valley and Santa Cruz. In San Francisco, the city attorney asked for a moratorium on installation of more SmartMeters and the request is being reviewed by a judge.

Contact Rob Rogers via e-mail at rrogers@marinij.com.

SOURCE: Mercury News.com





San Francisco could be first city in US to mandate posting of cell phone emission levels

10 07 2010

Supes back posting of cell phone emission levels

San Francisco moved a step closer Tuesday to becoming the first city in the nation to require that retailers post in their stores notices on the level of radiation emitted by the cell phones they offer.

The Board of Supervisors voted 10-1 to give preliminary approval to the proposal. Final approval is expected next week. Supervisor Sean Elsbernd was the lone vote in opposition. Mayor Gavin Newsom, an early proponent of the legislation, plans to sign it into law when it reaches his desk.

Cast by backers as a pro-consumer measure, the ordinance would not ban the sale of certain cell phones but would require retailers to provide the “specific absorption rate” – a measurement of radiation registered with the Federal Communications Commission – next to phones displayed in their shops. Consumers also would be notified about where they can get more educational materials.

“This is about helping people make informed choices,” said Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, chief sponsor of the legislation.

But a trade group for the cell phone industry said the law could lead to confusion.

“Rather than inform, the ordinance will potentially mislead consumers with point-of-sale requirements suggesting that some phones are ‘safer’ than others, based on radio frequency emissions,” John Walls, vice president of public affairs for the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, said after the vote. “In fact, all phones sold legally in the U.S. must comply with the Federal Communication Commission’s safety standards for (radio frequency) emissions.”

The FCC has adopted limits for safe exposure to radiation. The measurement shows the amount of radio frequency energy people absorb in their bodies when talking on a cell phone.

The potential long-term health impacts of cell phone use, particularly on the brain, is still a matter of scientific debate.

A similar right-to-know measure, carried by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, died in the Legislature this year amid heavy lobbying by the cell phone industry.

Small business advocates in San Francisco also lobbied against the local labeling law, saying they didn’t have an appetite for more government mandates, particularly in this tough economic climate.

“This is not about discouraging people from using their cell phones,” said Newsom spokesman Tony Winnicker. “This is a modest and commonsense measure to provide greater transparency and information to consumers.”

The posting requirements would be phased in, beginning in February. Violators would face fines of up to $300. City officials still need to educate retailers and figure out how the law would be enforced, when and if it is finally adopted. Hundreds of stores in San Francisco sell cell phones.

Renee Sharp, director of the California office of the Environmental Working Group, a national nonprofit research and advocacy group, lauded San Francisco for its “leadership in protecting the public’s health and right to know, and we hope it’s the beginning of a movement that won’t stop until everybody shopping for a phone has easy access to this information.”

E-mail Rachel Gordon at rgordon@sfchronicle.com.

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

Supes back posting of cell phone emission levels.