Privacy and health concerns over radio frequencies from smart meters were among the issues raised Wednesday in public comments on a rate case for Public Service Co. of Oklahoma.
A proposed settlement in the case would raise residential bills by $3.11 per month to pay for the installation of smart meters for more than 520,000 PSO customers by the end of 2016. If approved, the extra charge would be in the form of a rider on bills starting in November.
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has received several hundred complaints about smart meters since Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. finished installing them in 2012 for more than 800,000 customers.
But several people at the PSO hearing Wednesday discussed their health problems with smart meters and asked the utility to allow its customers to opt out of the program.
Owasso resident Joe Esposito demonstrated how he uses a radio frequency detector to scan for electromagnetic radiation from wireless Internet routers and cellphones. Esposito said he is hypersensitive to radio frequencies and built a Faraday cage of aluminum screen wire around his house to shield himself from radiation.
“The public doesn’t know this is happening to them,” Esposito said.
Concern over radiation
Billy Smith, of El Reno, struggled to maintain his composure as he described the health problems his wife, Monique, began having after a smart meter was installed at their house 18 months ago. Smith said the couple have moved out of their custom-built house to a trailer on their property to get away from the radiation that affects his wife.
“I can see the benefits of these smart meters if you’re not sensitive, but if you’re sensitive, it could be the death of you,” Smith said.
Smart meters in the United States must not exceed radio frequency exposure limits set by the Federal Communications Commission.
Smart meters typically emit much lower amounts of radiation than microwaves, cellphones and walkie-talkies.
In an interview, PSO spokesman Stan Whiteford said the utility shares the results of several independent, peer-reviewed studies on smart meters with concerned customers.
“There is a fraction of customers who have concerns,” Whiteford said. “We try to share good, current information with them. We’re just trying to do the best thing for all our customers.”
Whiteford said it doesn’t make financial sense for PSO to offer an opt-out for smart meter installation. If some customers opted out, the utility would have to service two types of metering infrastructure and would lose out on some of the savings offered by the remote reading of smart meters.
“This is a great new technology in which we see a total upside,” Whiteford said.
Privacy, higher cost
Derek Lewellen, PSO’s manager of smart meters and meter revenue operations, said the data transmitted by smart meters is encrypted and doesn’t include any personally identifiable information of customers. The state’s 2011 Electric Usage Data Protection Act on the use of metering data also adds another layer of protection for Oklahoma customers, he said.
Several parties have signed a proposed settlement in the PSO case, but AARP Oklahoma doesn’t agree with the extra costs customers will be charged for the smart meters. Administrative Law Judge Jacqueline T. Miller continued the public hearing until July 21 to give time for more testimony on several issues not included in the proposed settlement.
I can see the benefits of these smart meters if you’re not sensitive, but if you’re sensitive, it could be the death of you.”