Thursday, December 5, 2013
By STANLEY BARON
PORTLAND - The Maine Public Utilities Commission is currently looking at the impact of Central Maine Power's installation of "smart meters." I applaud CMP's commitment to smart-meter technology and the benefits provided. However, I agree with others that the current implementation plan raises health and safety questions and concerns.
When CMP announced the switch to this technology, I assumed that CMP's meters would transmit data over the electric wires from my residence to CMP. I am aware of technology in use for well over a half century that allows nonradiating signal carriers to transmit audio and data over wired electric power systems.
This wired technology has a limited communication range, and I assumed that CMP's system carried the information on wires out to the poles to a collector, where it could then be transmitted to their facilities by a wireless system. This approach does not expose consumers to energy levels beyond normal background levels.
I subsequently learned that CMP's wireless meters send non-ionizing radio frequency waves to each meter site using a short-duration signal at intervals throughout the day.
The system transmits the information using a "mesh network," relaying information from meter to meter within a local area until the information reaches the data collector, which is located on a pole. The collector site then transmits the data, using repeaters, to the central database.
It would be helpful to understand why CMP hasn't adopted a wired communication system. The technology that allows smart-meter information to be retrieved over the electric wires has been implemented in smart-meter products and is in use; it allows smart-meter services without exposing consumers to transmission energy.
CMP has said that the maximum energy levels produced by its units are "safe." I live in an apartment complex of approximately a dozen buildings, each building having four or more units. The building has a wood frame with wooden exterior.
The five electric service meters for my building are clustered in the rear of the building and are located directly outside my bedroom window.
Given the location of my bed, my pillow is 3½ feet from the cluster. In my case, the energy levels I am exposed to are at least five times the maximum levels cited by CMP and could be an order of magnitude greater, depending on how the information is relayed on the mesh network and the duration of exposure that results.
I have observed buildings in Portland with meters for service to apartments located in a single cluster with counts ranging from four to more than 100 units. Obviously, the exposure to residents whose apartments abut these locations greatly exceeds the "maximum exposure" cited by CMP.
I recall one incident where a co-worker and I were working near a radio frequency field that was considered safe. Before starting work, I had removed my wedding band and watch, knowing that metal moving in a field can conduct electricity. After a short time, my co-worker stated that it smelled like someone was cooking a hot dog, then he started to yell and shake his left hand.
It turned out his movements near the field had induced a current in his wedding band, "cooking" his finger. It is my understanding from my work that long-term exposure to radiated energy, even at very low dosage, can have an accumulated effect on human tissue.
Has Central Maine Power cited any study that considers direct human exposure to their short-duration smart-meter signals and the protective effects of materials between the source and humans? Did any study include long-term, multi-year effects, and if so, how long a period of exposure did the study consider?
The Maine Public Utilities Commission allows consumers to opt out of the smart-meter program by paying fees that include a monthly fee for each meter. But what if individuals living in multiple-residence dwellings whose units abut a cluster of meters choose to opt out?
The distance from the meter site to the other units in the building does not present a potential danger to the other consumers in the building; therefore, they might not consider opting out of the smart-meter program. The current policy, as I understand it, would require the individuals who live in multi-unit buildings and who are opting out to pay for all meters.
Has the PUC given consideration to the economic impact of this opt-out policy on people living in multiple-residence buildings?
Stanley Baron is a resident of Portland and a Life Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.