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Marin County frets about SmartMeters but not cell phones
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PG&E - contrary to the belief of the Marin County Board of Supervisors - is not trying to kill off its customers using electromagnetic radiation.

That august body earlier this week exceeded its authority and ordered PG&E to cease putting in place the SmartMeters until at least the end of 2011. PG&E has said they wouldn’t comply.

Bravo for PG&E.

The San Francisco-based utility is unfairly getting pulled into hysteria over electromagnetic radiation.

Now if you believe that you have “hyper-electro sensitivity” you may view PG&E as a heartless corporation out to fry its customers. And you might be able to convince five elected supervisors to unanimously agree SmartMeters present a potential health and safety risk for those who are near the devices.

If you are a tad more reasonable you might claim it is really an issue of the accumulative effect of electromagnetic radiation even if it is an extremely small impact. It would, though, be akin to someone making an argument that the thousands of hot tubs in Marin County are contributing to global warming and therefore should be banned if you could somehow prove that there is a miniscule impact.

Of course, placing a moratorium on hot tubs in Marin County isn’t going to happen.

Nor for that matter is banning the use of cell phones, wireless Internet, microwaves, and a wide array of modern technology that relies on electromagnetic radiation to work.

SmartMeters are the utility industry’s answer to not just keeping the costs down for providing service but to also one day empower customers to better monitor and therefore manage their energy consumption.

It reduces costs by thinning the ranks of having meter readers walk house-to-house to eyeball meters. Instead significantly fewer PG&E employees can drive down streets and scan the information to capture it on a computer.

Information generated by Smart Meters could allow people to not only have control over their monthly energy bills on a 24/7 basis at their own home computer but they could also help the environment by being able to shift uses away from high demand times that in turn avoids the need for “peak power” plants that are typically carbon-based and come on line when demand dictates.

The odds are air pollution from a peak power plant is ultimately considerably more harmful than exposure to a SmartMeter.

The SmartMeter health flap is reminiscence of the concern that those living in close proximity to electricity transmission lines would be sterilized. It’s been years since that first came up and there hasn’t been a surge in cancer cases connected with transmission lines. The rules that went into effect are common sense. It isn’t wise to build under such lines regardless given the wires could somehow come failing down and creating the danger of possible electrocution.

Even so, there is a heck of a lot more potential for harm from “radiation” from a powerful transmission line than from a meek SmartMeter.

If nothing else the Marin County action shows how people from different areas approach the issue of SmartMeters. In the San Joaquin Valley, SmartMeters were primarily challenged for somehow being widely inaccurate and pumping up electric bills.

Except for a few rare cases where the SmartMeters have malfunctioned, the problem with high bills that seemed to skyrocket after the devices were installed had more to do with timing involving the arrival of the air conditioning season and the bizarre tiered rate structure that penalizes those who either wantonly use more power than others or have no choice but to do so.

Say what you want about SmartMeters but the days of PG&E misreading meters or even going for months without reading them due to access issues or - as what happened a few years ago - short staffing which led them in some cases to grossly miscalculate  actual use resulting in super-sized bills will end once they are all in place.