The Stupidity of The 'Smart' Grid – Blake Levitt

B. Blake Levitt is an award-winning science journalist who has researched the biological effects of nonionizing radiation since the late 1970’s. She is the author of “Electromagnetic Fields, A Consumer’s Guide to the Issues and How to Protect Ourselves,” and is on the executive board of The Berkshire-Litchfield Environmental Council. For an in-depth interview with her and Duncan Campbell, Esq by Camila Rees go to

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Opinion > Op-ed
Chris Murphy: Smart Guy, Big Blindspots
Thursday, March 3, 2011
By B. Blake Levitt

Area Democrats were recently asked to endorse Chris Murphy for his upcoming bid for the U.S. Senate. Full disclosure—I am a lifelong Democrat, an ardent environmentalist, and vice chairman of the Warren Democratic Town Committee.

My most delicious guilty political pleasure, however, is voting repeatedly for Republicans Andrew Roraback for the Connecticut Senate and Jack Travers for First Selectman in Warren—both terrific, civic-minded gentleman, party affiliation be damned. But as a fellow Dem, I’ve got problems with Chris Murphy—also an ardent environmentalist—that surprise even me.

As a former member of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, in my opinion, Chris Murphy focused too hard on pushing big-picture environmental solutions (to combat climate change and support alternative energy) to the detriment of significant issues on the ground. It’s as if he presumes local objections are ipso facto NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) concerns, or just too provincial for serious attention. He has also come to embrace technology as a primary problem solver without understanding that a too-rapid embrace of some technologies can create unique environmental problems all of their own. And with only a handful of exceptions, he has also been unresponsive to requests for help regarding cell tower issues at the federal level when important actions there could alleviate local problems all across the country. His staff has been chronic no-shows at important briefings on radiofrequency radiation (RF) issues, despite repeated invitations. That office just seems to “know what it knows” about the environment and that’s the end of it.

My particular issue with Congressman Murphy concerns his support for SmartGrid technologies, and I will not endorse or support him until he backs away from this ill-conceived massive overhaul of the nation’s utility grid. While no sane person could argue that our aging utility infrastructure does not need upgrading, or that government has no role to play, Smart Grids as currently designed aren’t the way. SmartGrid/SmartMeter technologies are poised to force a new layer of RF radiation into our lives, whether we want it or not. This, at a time when there are increasing concerns in medical research circles about the safety of such low-level, chronic RF exposures, made ubiquitous by all our beloved wireless gizmos—from cell phones to iPads to Wi-Fi—and all their accompanying transmitting infrastructure. No agency regulates for aggregate exposures from all these devices. Exposure guidelines at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are taken one device at a time. But at least with cell phones, exposures are voluntary. Not so with SmartGrids/SmartMeters.

SmartGrids—funded to the tune of 11 billion taxpayer dollars today, mainly through Congressman Murphy’s former committee in league with the Department of Energy, will eventually turn all of our appliances into RF transceivers just like cell phones, capable of being controlled remotely by us and the utility companies. That’s every washer, dryer, computer, stove, oven, furnace, air conditioner, and on and on—all turned into cell-phone like devices. New appliances are already being equipped with internal antennas. All of these indoor transmitters will communicate with SmartMeters attached to the outside of homes and businesses, which will, in turn, transmit utility usage information several times a day, and sometimes several times a minute, to a new centralized hub (like a cell tower) coming to a location near you soon. Peak power busts of RF when a device first transmits have been measured in excess of federal guidelines. These are unsafe, involuntary exposures, especially to pregnant women and children.

Northeast Utilities in Connecticut is currently requesting permission from the Department of Public Utility Control (DPUC), which will rule in April, to install SmartMeters on the homes of 1.2 million customers. This is after a 2009 pilot program of 10,000 residential, small commercial, and industrial customers found no beneficial impact on total energy usage. Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen and the Office of Consumer Counsel have asked the DPUC to slow down, and for good reason. In a brief filed Feb. 8, Mr. Jepsen estimated that this “upgrade” will cost ratepayers over $500 million for the meters alone. The energy savings cannot justify the costs, he said. There are privacy concerns, too. Indeed.

There is backlash in other states. Thousands of citizens and scores of legislators throughout California and Maine are calling for moratoriums until more is known. Mothers and grandmothers have been arrested for blocking utility trucks from entering their neighborhoods. Five California communities have declared SmartMeters “illegal,” including San Francisco. Lawsuits are pending.

People are reporting intense headaches, “brainfog,” insomnia, and chronic flu-like symptoms—classic low-level RF complaints—within days of smart meters being installed on homes. Over 2,500 people have phoned California’s Pacific Gas & Electric with health problems. Numerous fires have started from improperly installed meters.

Billing errors have become rampant with SmartMeters, sometimes tripling within one month of installation. Radiofequency interference is affecting other appliances, too, making them run erratically and burning out circuit boards. General radio reception is adversely affected in some homes. There are concerns regarding RF interference with insulin pumps, some pacemakers, electric wheelchairs, in-home hospital equipment and deep brain stimulators used in Parkinson’s patients. SmartMeters are also easily hacked into. Security firms have demonstrated how easy it is to penetrate the entire grid through a single meter, thereby endangering national security. Individual security is also at risk; personal information about real-time energy use can signal when people are not home. Then there are privacy concerns … what’s to stop someone from selling information about you, once they have access to how and when you use your appliances?

And there are social issues: SmartMeters allow two-way communication between the utility company and all of your appliances. But do we really want them to control our furnaces and air conditioners? Or risk appliances accidentally turning on or off via errant cell phone signals from a passing motorist when we aren’t at home? (The systems are very “buggy.”) Or allowing utilities to set tiered pricing for higher rates during the day—a “green” business model intended to get people to run their appliances at off-peak hours. This penalizes the elderly, stay-at-home children/families, freelancers, home-based businesses and the unemployed.

The big question, though, is whether this multibillion-dollar debacle will actually save energy. Nowhere has anyone factored in the reality that all of these new antennas will create something called vampire energy (think remote-controlled appliances like TV’s that are never really “off” unless fully unplugged or they wouldn’t be able to turn back “on” when asked to do so.) Or the fact that the constant stepping up and down of various voltages between the higher frequency RF meters and the lower frequency utility lines use far more energy than just leaving them alone. Or the gas required for all those vans to convert literally billions of meters all over the country. Or the energy required to dispose of the old meters. Or the simple fact that some people can’t do their laundry at midnight?

SmartGrid technology is vastly more complex than our ability to control it. Yet, in the name of saving energy and creating green jobs, Mr. Murphy and many environmental organizations like the Sierra Club, are prime supporters. There’s a serious disconnect here.

To garner my support, Mr. Murphy needs to do much better homework. Federal stimulus dollars should not be used this way. For $11 billion, we could have brought fiberoptic cable to every home the way Japan has done. Fiberoptic can be used for high-speed Internet, TV, voice communications, and oh yeah, real-time utility billing if anyone keeps thinking that’s a bright idea. Several U.S. municipalities have invested in their own private to-the-home fiberoptic systems and now offer significant tech/entertainment savings to residents. It’s the ultimate competition with the cable companies. There is also no RF with fiberoptic and virtually no downtime in catastrophic emergencies. That’s the infrastructure taxpayers should be supporting.

What’s more, much of the taxpayer money for SmratGrids has gone to corporate behemoths like Seimens and GE—the largest manufacturer of SmartMeters in the world. And then there’s the irony that SmartMeters don’t “run backwards” with many green technologies like solar panels. So much for selling back to the grid and recouping investments. Even Forbes Magazine is now saying that the SmartGrid isn’t such a smart investment afterall.

Other countries are far ahead of us in calling for precautionary measures. New Zealand counties have outlawed SmartMeters because of fires. The European Union recommends that people keep wireless use to a minimum. In France, the national library system has outlawed Wi-Fi computers throughout that nation’s libraries because librarians became ill. The German government recommends that citizens maintain their landline phones and that people of childbearing age not use wireless computers on their laps due to fertility comcerns. There is massive resistance over SmartGrid deployment throughout Europe.

Intelligent environmentalists like Chris Murphy need to go back to the drawing board. SmartGrids are just plain dangerous and dumb. And industrial-scale wind turbines do not belong just anywhere that the nascent wind industry wants to plunk them. Jobs and renewable energy are, of course, critical macro-issues, but our health, security, privacy, peace of mind, and local stewardship responsibilities are significant parts of the equation, too.