Maybe it was a slow news day and there was nothing else to report on in the middle of the summer doldrums, but here it was in the online version of the daily fish wrap. The California Public Utilities commission was holding a public hearing on customer complaints over the risk of wireless radiation from smart meters July 29th in San Francisco.
“We’re just flooding our environment with electromagnetic radiation. And we’re doing it without understanding the potential health consequences of that deluge,” alleged Josh Hart one of the speakers at the hearing. This is a guy who told the reporter he also sold his cell phone over his worries about radiation.
OK! OK! I know this is California and all things wacky and wonderful start here. Thankfully for the rest of the country most of the wacky ideas just mellow out after a while as people move on the next thing they can protest about. In my view this one, this week, ranks right up there with the protesters in Berkeley covering themselves with oil as they picket the site of a new $500 million biotechnology lab being built at UC-Berkeley because the largest donor for the construction project is BP.
Is this radiation complaint a big concern?
Well, considering that only 16 people turned out for the CPUC public hearing on the topic all claiming they suffer from electro-hypersensitivity from cell phone towers and other wireless technologies I suggest not. The hearing examiner who gets paid to listen to such drivel all day on every topic sat patiently and let the folks talk their allotted time.
But, of course, there is also politics in this.
The CPUC has an ongoing inquiry into the smart meter program after PG&E got hammered by customers over utility bill spikes after their smart meters were installed. Several communities including San Francisco and Marin County have also petitioned the Commission to halt smart meter installations until the full inquiry is completed, but the CPUC has denied this request. But they have a different issue in that both want to create their own community aggregation program to enable residents to buy more renewable energy from sources other than PG&E under the state law which allows it.
So the smart meter process moves forward here on the Left Coast and PG&E and other utilities are enduring the fate of all proponents of change in the endless second guessing. After all the hassles over powerline electromagnetic fields and the endless research to discover whether there were real health and safety problems researchers found nothing, the complaints over EMF have largely gone away.
Yes, there are also those who fear their cell phones will give them brain cancer and maybe if you talked nonstop for 47 years you might have a problem, but few people are giving up their cell phones are they?
My advice to these protesters is forget these health and safety issues as an excuse to stop smart meters and focus on the real problem—ratepayers are being charged for this investment when the benefits accruing to ratepayers are far into the future.
In any ratemaking proceeding the burden is on the utility to prudently show that the cost and benefits of the proposal add up and are being fairly allocated to shareholders and ratepayers. In the case of smart meters, the benefits accrue largely to the utilities at this stage of the transition and thus the costs should also largely be born there too. That’s what regulators in Maryland, and Hawaii recently ruled.
The lack of any business experience by the California protestors is hurting their cause since they are protesting the stuff that does not matter and missing the stuff that does. Then again, they could be climbing trees on the UC-Berkeley campus like previous protests and staying up there for a year until they get their way. Oh forget that—not even iPod batteries last that long!