ENCINITAS — Five residents waived signs and chanted on Coast Highway 101 Oct. 4 as part of a national protest decrying smart meters. Smart meters track customers’ electricity and gas usage and transmit data back to San Diego Gas & Electric.
Proponents say the smart meters promote energy efficiency and allow customers to easily record and control consumption.But critics at the protest aimed to draw attention to what they say are real health risks associated with smart meters, how customers can opt-out and smart meters’ new capacity to connect with and monitor appliances, also known as a “home area network.”
“The potential for abuse is there with the home area network,” said Glenn Jacobs, a cyber security engineer who was at the protest.
Due to a recent decision from the California Public Utilities Commission, home area networks will become more common statewide over the next year. Those interested in setting up a home area network now have the option of buying a third-party device that communicates wirelessly with their smart meter and appliances, giving them command over room temperature and appliances’ electrical usage.
But Jacobs believes the networks are prone to incorrect billing and vulnerable to hacking.
“This is being rolled out under the guise of saving energy,” Jacobs said. “What it will really do is give criminals the ability to steal personal data.”
He added that he could demonstrate how easy a home area network is to hack if given the chance.
Other protestors lamented smart meters in general.
Susan Brinchman, director of the nonprofit Center for Electrosmog Prevention, passed out literature illustrating what she says are health problems caused by smart meters. Brinchman attributes her dizziness, nausea, sinus problems and fatigue to a smart meter that was installed in her home more than two years ago.
“Some people are sensitive to radiation,” Brinchman said. “The smart meters fill homes with radiation and make those people sick.”
She has led information campaigns for how customers can opt out of smart meters.
According to Erin Coller, a spokesperson for SDG&E, those who wish to return to an analog meter have to pay a $75 fee and an additional monthly charge of $10. The cost for low-income customers who qualify is a $10 fee and $5 per month.
Coller said that nearly all SDG&E customers have a smart meter, as the public utility company began replacing analog meters and installing smart meters in 2008. Less than 0.05 percent of customers have chosen to opt out, Coller said.
Further, she pushed back against the protestors’ claims. She said the smart meters use the latest encryption technology, protecting data. And the smart meters meet federal standards and emit less radiation than common electronic items like cell phones, Coller said.
Thanks to smart meters, customers can be better informed about their energy use and have the tools to save money on their bills, Coller stated.
Coller said the full home area network will begin rolling out later this year for SDG&E customers. There is no monthly fee for being part of the network, and customers will be available to sign up online, she said.