Snap!# Crackle#*! Pop!#* Interference: Another Smart Meter Problem Hits the Fan

In a San Jose Mercury News story running on page one above the fold with large graphic to capture more attention, the San Jose mercury News reports that “common household electronics operating on the same frequency (900-928 megahertz) as PG&E’s smart meters might experience interference.”

While this has not happened in my household where we must have every kind of electronic gadget known to man and Best Buy apparently it is a problem—-a problem utilities don’t want to talk about.

That seems to be the real news in this for the San Jose Mercury News, its Action Center fields consumer complaints and helps revolve the problems.  You’ve seen these stories and TV reports many times.  The embarrassed retailer deciding it prudent not to pick a fight with someone who buys bandwidth reaching zillions gives in and refunds the poor consumer’s money for a faulty product or service done badly.

So when Action Center got complaints about baby monitors and other gadgets it contacted PG&E for answers. The story by Dennis Rockstroh goes on to say:

“Action Line became aware of the interference when members of a mothers’ group in the Palo Alto-Menlo Park area started reporting that they were suddenly awakened in the middle of the night by loud crackles and pops on their baby monitors. They suspected their recently installed SmartMeters were the cause.

I asked PG&E about it. Nothing, at first. I asked again. Then a month after I asked about this, PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno said that the families needed to update their two-year-old baby monitors with improved shielding. (Action Line tip: Make sure any new equipment you buy is “shielded.” Ask to make sure.) In one case, PG&E paid for a new monitor.

Moreno finally responded in an e-mail: “We are sorry the customer encountered this inconvenience. The SmartMeter device meets all Federal Communications Commission standards, so in cases like this, the baby monitor wasn’t built to a standard where it would not receive interference from legally transmitted equipment like a SmartMeter meter. It is likely that the replacement monitor was designed so it would not receive interference from legally transmitting equipment, which is why it is no longer experiencing interference. This reader might want to seek a refund from the store or maker of the first monitor she purchased.”

It’s not OUR fault you have all that old crappy equipment

It might have ended there except sixty more complaints rolled into the Mercury News while they went back and forth with PG&E for an answer.  Then PG&E’s crack Customer Service operation must have taken over because their answer really ticked off the Mercury News:

We can’t discuss customer problems with you without the customer’s approval in writing in advance: “These either need to be notarized or signed in front of a PG&E employee at one of our service centers,” the newspaper quoted the PG&E spokesman.

This is like waving a red cape in front of an investigative reporter bull moving the story from ‘pain in the neck’ to we’re onto something here keep digging’ kind of story and that is how it made page one.

So I Googled the topic and discovered the same problem has cropped up elsewhere.  In Chicago, ComEd includes two pieces of information in its FAQs about Smart Meters:

Do Smart Meters Interfere with Baby Monitors?

In some cases, customers with old style, analog baby monitors that utilize the 900MHz frequency band have experienced interference.  If a customer is experiencing interference with an older style baby monitor, ComEd suggests unplugging base unit or the receiver and plugging it into another outlet, essentially moving it to a location that is further away from the smart meter. If moving outlets does not resolve the interference, ComEd will work with the customer to identify an appropriate solution.

Will Smart Meters interfere with home wireless networks?

No. ComEd’s smart meter system will use a fast frequency-hopping radio that switches frequencies about every 50 milliseconds. The constant cycling of frequencies eliminates any interference between 900 MHz devices in the home and smart meters. Additionally, no cellular (mobile) phones use 902-928 MHz, the frequency band that will be used by the smart meters.

Apparently this interference issues is not a new one.  When I Googled it I also got two other references to the problem from Chatham, Ontario, Canada where Chatham-Kent Hydro, the local utility encountered this back in 2007 while installing smart meters.  The first link in Google is the reference to the Chatham-Kent Utility website discussion of the topic.  But when you get there you notice the page has been removed.  The next reference in your Google search will be the story in the local paper in Chatham, the Maple City Star, telling you about one reporters encounter with the problem and the utility’s reaction.

The utilities are blowing it big time here.  They should have just told us global warming was causing it.