Smart meters are meant to streamline the grid and make utility services more efficient, but they also attract vehemently-expressed opinions regarding perceived health and privacy risks. Here are eight of the most extreme examples we've read about at Utility Dive in the past year:
1. THREATENING A UTILITY WITH A BOMB
Where: Hope, British Columbia, Canada
A 46-year-old man in Hope, British Columbia attempted to prevent the installation of a smart meter on his home by threatening utility employees with a homemade explosive device. The man and his wife threatened BC Hydro utility workers, as well as police officers, before he revealed the homemade explosive—assembled using mason jars and a liquid that may have been jet fuel.
At the time, utility employees and police officers were attempting to replace an illegally installed meter on the home that was allegedly taken from a nearby abandoned house.
2. PULLING A GUN ON A UTILITY WORKER
Where: Houston, Texas
Thelma Taormina of Houston brandished a gun to prevent a CenterPointEnergy worker from completing a smart meter installation on her home. Taormina, who is licensed to carry a concealed weapon, and her husband believe that the meters intrude upon personal privacy, allowing “them” to “tell if you are running your computer, air conditioner, whatever it is."
The pair formed a group called “We the People” to request hearings changing when and where the meters were placed, and the Public Utilities Commission began considering allowing homeowners to have the meters removed.
3. BLAMING A SMART METER FOR A HOUSE FIRE
Where: Houston, Texas
Another Houston woman, Jaclynn Harwood, says a smart meter was responsible for a July fire that burned her home to the ground. According to a letter reportedly from the Houston Fire Department, the fire was caused by “an unspecified electrical malfunction in the electrical meter,” and that only “charred remains of the smart meter and its conductors” were found during the investigation. Centerpoint said no similar problems had been reported with any of the other 2 million meters installed on Houston-area homes and businesses.
4. GIVING UP ELECTRICITY
Where: Baker City, Ore.
In September, 67-year-old Ron Edge, a Vietnam veteran and retired cement worker in Baker City, Ore., said he would rather go without electricity than allow a smart meter installation at his home. Edge went so far as to begin stockpiling supplies in case his power was, indeed, cut off. He was concerned about reported health risks associated with the meters and how data collected from them would be used, but the Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative says the meters will save customers money and improve service.
The two parties discussed a compromise that would place the meter farther from his home, but negotiations fell through and Edge was last reported to have taken his home off the grid in November.
5. REFUSING A NEW METER AT THE RISK OF LOSING POWER
Where: Western Ohio
According to report on The Blaze, Brenda Hawk of western Ohio was told in October that a smart meter had been installed on her home. She then demanded that the new meter be replaced with her old one. Hawk, who is handicapped, was concerned that the radio frequencies emitted by the meter would interfere with her pacemaker and the breathing machine that she requires to sleep at night due to a brain injury.
In January, Hawk reportedly received a letter from AEP executive Ralph Rocca, Jr. informing her that her power would be cut off if she didn’t accept a new meter, and her power was eventually cut off in February. Hawk’s power was turned back on following the intervention of Gov. John Kasich, but she isn’t the first—and probably won’t be the last—to refuse the meters over concerns about medical device interference.
6. GETTING ARRESTED FOR PREVENTING AN INSTALLATION
Where: Naperville, Ill.
Jennifer Stahl and Malia “Kim” Bendis, leaders of the Naperville Smart Meter Awareness group, were arrested in January after physically preventing a smart meter installation. The city has repeatedly stated the meters are safe, but offers a non-wireless alternative for $68.35 plus a $24.75 monthly fee to perform manual readings. Stahl maintains that residents who don’t want a smart meter shouldn’t have to pay for the alternative, and Naperville Smart Meter Awareness has a federal lawsuit pending against the city regarding concerns about health, security and privacy related to the meters.
7. CITING A GOVERNMENT CONSPIRACY
When energy consultant Craig Miller mentioned his work implementing the smart grid to a Pennsylvania lineman, the man earnestly responded that smart meters are part of a plot by President Obama to spy on the public. While there are probably much more efficient ways the government could spy on you if it wanted to, privacy concerns related to the smart grid are very real to smart meter opponents.
Though the devices can help homeowners learn more about their own energy usage, the data could also theoretically be used to gather details such as how many people are living in a household, what their daily routines are and what kinds of devices are present in the home. The private nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote in a blog post that, if not the government, a divorce lawyer or insurance company could utilize the data to take advantage of customers.
8. INTERCEPTING METER DATA TO SEE WHAT'S THERE
Researchers found that German smart meter firm Discovergy’s devices contained vulnerabilities allowing them to intercept what was supposed to be confidential information sent from the meter. The unencrypted data was being sent over an insecure link, and, based on a power usage “fingerprint,” could be used to tell whether the homeowners were home, away, sleeping or allegedly even what movie they were watching.
Discovergy CEO Nikolaus Starzacher promised the security glitches would be corrected as soon as possible, but this news is sure to add to concerns that the meters can be used to spy on residents—if not by the government, then perhaps by technologically-adept thieves.
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