Mandatory smart meters draw complaints for Truckee Donner PUD
Truckee residents are taking issue with the installation of Advanced Metering Infrastructure electric meters, also referred to as “smart meters,” at their homes, and the inability to opt-out of the new program.
The Truckee Donner Public Utility District began replacing the meters last year and plans to have all homes upgraded by the end of 2019.
Following numerous complaints from community members, the board of directors agreed to hear the topic at an April 3 board meeting and discuss how to move forward, if possible, with an opt-out option.
During the last two board meetings, several residents voiced their concern about the smart meters, noting possible privacy violations and health risks associated with radio frequencies from the meters.
Of those residents was Tullin Valdez, who says he suffers from electrohypersensitivity, a condition that causes adverse effects to the body when exposed to high levels of electromagnetic radiation. He said increased levels of radio frequency give him headaches and severely affects his sleep.
“I can choose to turn my WiFi off. I can turn my cell phone off. I can’t turn this meter off,” Valdez said. “It will pulse every day, all day.”
Valdez said he was told earlier this year that he either had to accept the smart meter or his power would be shut off. He said he simply could not afford alternatives to buying power from Truckee Donner PUD, options such as off-grid solar.
“They’re a monopoly,” he said. “I have no other choice.”
Following complaints from community members with similar views on the meters, the board put the installation of the meters on hold until staff discusses an alternative option.
“It’s a really reasonable request to say we want to opt out,” said David Brauner, a Tahoe Donner resident.
Brauner said he had an issue with the meter continuously transmitting data to the district.
“You can tell when someone is at home, you have access to when people are using the most energy,” said Brauner. “It’s a big invasion of privacy.”
The California Public Utilities Commission requires investor-owned utilities, such as PG&E to offer an opt-out option for smart meters. For community-owned utilities like Truckee Donner Public Utility District, the utilities commission has no jurisdiction. That leaves the decision up to the local board of directors.
According to the district website, current meters are reaching the end of their life cycle and smart meters are the most cost-effective and efficient option. The meters are able to transmit data continuously, eliminating the need for district employees to drive around monthly and manually read the meters.
The district says the meters will also give customers an opportunity to better understand their electrical usage and conserve energy.
A study the district has sent out to customers states that “there is no clear evidence that additional standards are needed to protect the public from smart meters.”
“We originally did not offer an opt-out program with rollout of AMI meters. The biggest reason being that the new meters produce a small fraction of RF exposure,” said Steven Poncelet, public information officer and strategic affairs director for the district. “It’s not to say we don’t take health care seriously.”
According to Poncelet, the meters are more cost-effective than the existing ones.
“Our rates are based on cost of service,” said Poncelet. “The customers that choose to opt-out should pay the full cost of service for that.”
“Assuming that it’s affordable I’ll pay it,” said Valdez. “At the end of the day, I want to come to a reasonable resolution with them and not have that on my house.”
Hannah Jones is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at 530-550-2652 or firstname.lastname@example.org.