SmartMeter Opponents Step Up Tactics

By Alastair Bland Mon, Jun 27, 2011

The wildfire of rebellion against PG&E’s plans to install SmartMeters in households across the state is growing hotter by the day. Before sunrise on Monday, June 27, about 50 demonstrators surrounded the gates of a PG&E yard in Capitola to keep workers from exiting and installing wireless SmartMeters in local neighborhoods, as PG&E had announced would happen that day.

“We were ready to block them in, but the Wellington (Energy Company) workers (contracted by PG&E to conduct the installations) never materialized,” said Joshua Hart, the director of Stop SmartMeters!

Hart says local residents are watching the fleet of about two dozen Wellington Energy trucks and will report any indication that they are preparing to leave the premises.

Monica Tell, a PG&E spokesperson, confirmed that PG&E has contracted Wellington Energy, based in Pittsburgh, Penn., to install SmartMeters. She said the company will attempt do so sometime this week.

Hart assures he’ll try to block any such efforts to install the wireless energy meters, which he and others believe emit dangerous levels of radiation and which several local governments have banned. On June 21, in fact, Hart was arrested minutes after blocking the entrance to PG&E’s administrative office at Capitola Mall. Hart says he was demonstrating in direct response to an announcement from PG&E that it would soon resume installations of SmartMeters in the area, from which it had desisted for several months. Officers with the Capitola Police Department charged Hart with disrupting a business and released him with an order to appear in court on July 28.

“With PG&E’s arrogance in ignoring our local laws I felt I had to put my own body in their way,” Hart explains.

The Capitola Police Department did not return a call seeking comment.

Hart, who launched his anti-SmartMeter nonprofit about a year ago, is among a vocal group of people that claim SmartMeters are hazardous to human health. In May, the World Health Organization classified the radiofrequency electromagnetic fields emitted by cell phones and wireless communication devices as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” Though the WHO looked mostly at correlations between cell phone use and cancer, SmartMeters, as their critics have pointed out, emit the same kind of radiation as cell phones and wifi routers.

In spite of local bans on SmartMeters in Capitola, Watsonville and other parts of Santa Cruz County, Tell at PG&E says the energy giant recognizes no authority beyond the state’s Public Utilities Commission.

“The CPUC is the only entity with jurisdiction to impose moratoriums on SmartMeter installation,” Tell said.

In Capitola, where the city council last year voted to temporarily prohibit SmartMeters, councilman Kirby Nicol—the lone vote against the ordinance—says city and county laws have no power to deflect an initiative with federal backing. He said that any local-level opposition to PG&E’s SmartMeter plan will amount to just “a political game.”

“We have no authority to do anything (to stop SmartMeter installation),” Nicol said.

But SmartMeters may not be mandatory for all customers. In March, PG&E proposed an “opt out” plan by which customers can pay an upfront fee of up to $270, plus a monthly fee of $14-20 thereafter. Pending approval of the plan by the CPUC, customers opposed to SmartMeters can call 866.743.0263 to be placed on a delay list.

Hart—who says he is ready to be arrested again—says local representatives have a responsibility to block PG&E’s advance entirely.

“We believe that the local government has the right and even the obligation to step in and stand up for the community if the state or federal government won’t do it,” he said. “We have laws against SmartMeters here, and if the local government can’t enforce them, then what’s the point of having them?”

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