To Seattle City Light,
I do not want “smart” meters in my neighborhood, let alone on my home. The Opt-Out Policy is wholly inadequate to address my concerns.
The Advanced Metering Infrastructure provides NO benefit to me; it instead negatively impacts me whether I opt-out or not:
- Increased cost of electricity
- Increasing use of electricity to manage unnecessary usage data
- Increasing electromagnetic radiation, which harms the environment and the health of every living creature
- Increasing security risks; creating a computer network of 430,000 new access points that can potentially be hacked to attack the already vulnerable distribution grid
- The divergence of funds to protect utility revenue rather than creating sustainable energy solutions for the future
- Interferes with ability to add solar panels in future
Then there are the unaddressed concerns of:
- Privacy rights
- Fire hazards
Further, charging me an additional $15.87 per month, on top of already increased rates, to keep my service the way it’s been for decades, to avoid the above concerns, is unjustifiable.
As a customer of Seattle City Light, I demand a reconsideration of deploying the AMI “smart” meters, and if done at all, should be deployed as an OPT-IN only.
— Bettie Luke
To Bettie Luke, via Northwest Asian Weekly,
Advanced Metering will provide better support for customers with solar panels by allowing them to see how much their panels are producing and how much electricity their homes are using any time they want to check it online.
Seattle City Light is a publicly owned utility that operates as a non-profit department of the City of Seattle. We only collect enough money from our customers to cover the cost of electricity and our operations.
Advanced Metering will help City Light hold down its operating costs and continue to provide some of the lowest electricity rates of any large city in the country.
Advanced Meters are the environmentally correct choice. By eliminating the need to send meter readers to every home and business, City Light will avoid 200,000 miles of driving — and the carbon emissions associated with that driving — every year. The meters also will put more power in our customers hands so they will be able to see how much electricity they are using and how much it costs on a daily basis, which could help some customers who want to conserve energy reduce their bills.
The cost of installing the advanced meters is an operational cost for City Light and it is included in our projections for future rates. There is no separate charge for installing a new advanced meter. Many of our existing meters are far beyond their expected lifespan and need to be replaced, costs for the utility no matter what type of meter is used.
City Light is installing advanced meters to provide enhanced services for our customers. In addition to giving customers the ability to see how much electricity they are using and how much it will cost them before they get a bill, the new meters will automatically report power outages, eliminate instances of estimated bills that are currently used when a meter reader can’t access a meter, and allow for possible future services such as monthly billing, pre-pay and other optional alternative rate structures.
Advanced metering will become City Light’s standard service. Customers who decide they do not want an advanced meter will receive a non-communicating digital meter and they will be charged to cover the cost of sending a meter reader to their home. That charge will be made each billing cycle, which is currently every two months. The fee City Light has established is about $1 less than the national average among utilities with opt-out programs.
As for privacy concerns, City Light will only collect the total amount of electricity used by the home. The meters will only transmit a meter number and the total amount of electricity used. This is the information we need to generate a bill and provide the enhanced services for our customers. City Light will never share this information with anyone else.
As for safety, City Light will be installing the first electricity meters to be certified for safety by UL.
Additionally, they will be equipped with heat sensors to detect short circuits or other problems that could lead to a fire, a safety feature our existing meters don’t have.
We have been reaching out to our customers to discuss Advanced Metering for four years, including open houses, strategic planning events and hearings, information on our website, articles in our Light Reading newsletter and now during the public comments period for the opt-out policy. We appreciate the many comments we have already received. We will review them and consider possible changes before the opt-out policy is finalized.
For more information on the program, please visit seattle.gov/light/ami.
— Scott Thomsen
Seattle City Light
In reply to Carlton:
I’m not an electrician, however I am a computer systems and electrical engineer of 20+ years.
You are right on a lot of your points, so please do not take this message as a negative one. I simply don’t want to take the time to point everything out good or bad, so I will point out things that will come off primarily as negative.
I have opened many “smart meters” and examined the circuit boards and reverse engineered them to pull the firmware off several of the devices.
In regards to everyone’s conversation points about the term “design flaws” I find it necessary to mention that the term is being used as a vague generalization for the most part. The points about the two technologies being not made for each other is actually quite true, so kudos for pointing that out Carlton. Your explanation of the source of the heat, and the inability for the new meters to handle the heat correctly is indeed exactly correct. I would consider this however to be a generalized “design flaw” in that it was something that was missed during quality and safety testing, or something that was determined to be low enough in occurrence frequency and/or low enough in probability that it was decided not to fix it. I consider this to be a problem, since the responsibility is being placed on the home/property-owner, whereas there should be some combined responsibility here. From what I’ve seen so far, there isn’t a program to suggest to the home/property-owner to upgrade their power input (sorry, bad terminology) in order to create less heat, or manage heat better. Instead, electric and “smart meter” companies have (and I have not looked for it much, because as you say internet searching for the positive or scientific articles white papers and reports is difficult) not been telling the general public of these potential problems. This becomes very similar to why all of our products have the “caution” or “safety” warnings on them, to keep the public informed. The unfortunate problem is that as a generalized whole society ignores or doesn’t even notice those warnings anymore due to the “speed of life” increasing (that’s another conversation).
One more thing that I consider a design flaw is that there seems to be no useful attempt to mitigate heat on/in these meter devices. Computers are protected from heat using heat plates connected to either heat sinks or heat pipes, and almost always some kind of a fan. This quite obviously becomes difficult to deal with when considering that these are outside and exposed to the elements of weather and surrounding climate and ecosystems. It seems somewhat lazy to me for the design not to include at least a few small vents, protected by a top covering or baffle, in order to allow heat management while still protecting from water (floods not withstanding). As for the desire to keep moving parts out of the equation, see the patents for Dyson “fans” which are blade-less. while some of them have a fan in the bottom that creates a pressurized system to blow air through the round fins or gills at the top, some of them are using an electrostatic ionizing method to push air, which is to be honest quite old technology, only more recently utilized in designs. So that could also be considered a design flaw that would have been simple to fix. I’ll address the cost increases these changes in the design may create below.
As far as cost and increased energy usage, everyone in this op-ed and reply and comments (discussion) are correct. Yes, there is an energy cost to power the devices. Yes, it is minimal. Yes, in most cases it seems to be burdened to the home/property owners. Similarly the same can be said about the energy usage by the meters (energy the meter uses to operate): Yes, the meters use energy. Yes, the energy is minimal (in most cases), Yes, the energy use (in most cases) is burdened to the home/property owner. This is reflected both in the electric bills of some consumers, and in the firmware code that makes these meter devices work. Some devices record how much energy they use. Some devices do not. Some devices measure usage on the consumer end, meaning they do not measure the energy used by the device. Some measure on the grid side of device, meaning they do measure the energy used by the device. In short, it depends on what meter devices are used, and consumers are not allowed to choose their meter device anymore, so they cannot figure out what is best for them.
Batteries. Bottom line, about half of the devices I inspected have a series of one, two, or four CR2032 LION batteries or similar (small watch size coin batteries). Half of them do not have a battery. The ones with batteries seem to store power in their capacitors for power outages or line breaks, so that the meters still work, and likely will last several days just on the capacitors alone. The batteries seem to be a backup for the capacitors. The meters with no batteries also have capacitors, and seem to have more capacity, meaning potentially more meter backup time for recording data. not much more to say about that, except again, so far everyone’s correct depending on what meter is being used.
Cost of the design suggestions I made above: This is probably one of the biggest problems. While “capitalism” for all its pros and cons has really dominated the “developed” world (I’m not trying to use non-PC terms here, these are just the only terms I know to use, thus the quotes), this also brings us the main problem with these meter devices. There are only a small handful of companies that make these devices (relatively speaking), and they are highly regulated. Regulation is good in some respects, however the use of the devices will not become widespread for a few more years. These design issues cannot be worked out unless adoption becomes faster and consumers (home/property owners) are given the option to choose their meter devices. We have proven by watching the PC, DVD, and now Tablet and smart phone markets, that increased competition drives innovation, increases availability, increases adoption, and drives cost down for the average consumer, and up for those who want the latest and greatest. It’s why you can buy a $100 smart phone from a no-name company, or a $1000 smart phone with all of the latest features. They both do mostly the same things, and they will both last about 2 years if you’re lucky. And when flaws are found in designs such as water proof issues, companies start developing and adding features to prevent these types of issues. Most mid to high range phones and tablets are now water resistant to 10 meters. So it would be very easy to design the fan and weather fixes I mentioned above. It may cost a bit more at first, but if competition increases, this will drive the cost down while innovation happens.
Finally, a quick note on digital spying. This IS a legitimate concern. First, there are power line networks, and some devices use them. Second, do some quick research about defcon and blackhat proofs of concepts regarding using fluxuations in the electromagnetic fields in power lines to sniff data: This has been proven to be possible to watch keystrokes, sniff network data packets even without network to powerline converters, and even (this has been proven by several schools and by both DARPA and the NSA) the ability to duplicate the video output from a computer just from the electromagnetic fluxuations both in surrounding vicinity of the TV/Monitor, or through the electric line. Do some searching, it’s hard to find, but there are numerous white papers and defcon lectures and non-classified reports about such research and proofs of concept. Not widely used to my knowledge, but it is possible, and it is a concern.
And of course, wifi / 4G / coming 5G is of course the easiest networking medium to crack, and so the hacking concerns are more than just warranted. The issue is the same issue that happened with email: the use cases are not fully thought out, and instead of fixing the system before it gets too big, patches are put in place, and now email has the huge problem of spam, spoofing, viruses, and scammers making the good thing that is email an unfortunate burden to most. Search the internet for instructions to hack a wifi connection to take control of someone’s computer at the coffee shop.
The wireless signals being sent from these devices also may indeed cause unintended and unknown side effects to wildlife. Birds fly South for the winter, north for the summer. Do you know how they do this? Eletromagnetism. Nearly every living creature (including humans) have a built in sensitivity to the electromagnetic force. Birds, insects, fish, and other migratory species use it to determine where they should go. The animal die-offs we’ve been seeing is almost always a result of electromagnetic confusion in these animals causing them to go the wrong way, or crash into each other in some cases.
Another point about the potential dangers of radio frequencies effects on humans: look up information about how people diagnosed on the autism spectrum or (now formerly) diagnosed with asperger’s syndrome, can be sensitive to radio frequency. I personally actually hear radio frequencies in the higher ranges (about 1k to 8k, when the strength is high enough, or low enough). When I say I hear it, I am not hearing voices over the air, I hear the slight whine of electronic devices that use radio frequencies to transmit data. I can also hear the whine of power supplies, transformers, and yes, both analog and smart meters. Analog meters have a lower “whine”, while the newer meters (smart meters) have a higher pitch whine. I can walk into a room of computers and tell you which computer will have the next power supply fail because I can hear traditional computer “power supplies” when they are both working, and failing. I seem to be able to live with it, however there are those who cannot be around electronics at all, and some who cannot be around wireless transmissions (search the internet for the wireless free town, it’s studying planetary electromagnetics or something like that).
So again, we’re all right to some degree here. The second biggest problem is that we are all too divided (at least the USA, not sure about the rest of the world) to honestly discuss these things in a productive manner. The BIGGEST problem is that when someone says something like “smart meters may be dangerous” or “fluoride in the water may or may not be harmful”, or “an unidentified object seemingly flying through the sky was observed” the world in the USA and other parts of the “West” instantly think “Conspiracy Theorist” and the general population seems to equate “conspiracy theorist” with “retarded” or “nut job” or “tin foil hat guy down the road” (not apologizing for using that word, I’m not trying to offend I’m only using it to illustrate the situation). The problem is, when we jump to these “conspiracy theorist” generalizations and say anybody who thinks X, Y, or Z are implicitly wrong and crazy, then we are doing ourselves and all of society a disservice: 1) by auto labeling as crazy like this we are preventing discussion and stunting science and innovation, and 2) auto labeling as crazy is the quickest way to kill freedom of speech. We do not have to agree, and we should be offended if we want to be. But we should seek out what offends us to learn more about it, rather than dividing ourselves into bubbles of non-offense, creating the tribal culture where we keep hating each other re-building the class system.
But this is just my thoughts. Tell me what you think! As I’ve said, I am open to discussion! Please keep this discussion going. Thanks!
Alki Resident says
Many claims from both sides, Google search and make your own conclusions.
At least there is an Opt-out on this meter, for those who prefer that. I myself look forward to
the smart meter, being an owner of a grid tie solar system in Seattle. I will be getting free production data, instead of having to provide internet bandwidth for the current system monitor with the manufacturer.
Mr. Thomsen needs to find an example of where smart meters have actually done any of the things he promises. No jurisdiction has seen any reduction in costs or energy used. The contrary has proven to be true and the Auditor General of Ontario, Canada has reported that, after several years, this program is a failure and a waste of money.
These meters are cheaply made and industry has admitted to the US Congress that the lifespan is 5-7 years instead of the 30+ years of analogs.
As for environmental concerns, it is far more friendly to have glass and metal meters than plastic ones with lithium batteries, all of which must be properly disposed of and then replaced in 5-7 years.
And of prime significance is the fact that Homeland Security, CIA, FBI and others have warned that this wireless grid is extremely vulnerable to cyberattacks, with warnings that it’s not a matter of it but rather of when the grid is brought down for many months at a time. The smart meter is the most vulnerable point in the grid — a possible entry point for hacking, a virus, or attack.
Last, but not least, these meters have design flaws which have led to fires across North America. ITRON meters have been found to not fit properly into bases that were designed and certified to hold only an analog meter.
There is nothing green about these smart meters except the money that goes into the corporate pockets. Learn from the experiences of others and avoid this horrendous waste of money.
Carlton Sessoms says
I am a Journeyman Meterman, and feel the need to correct a few things. The meters do not have design flaws. The potential fire issues highlight a difference between the old nad new meters. The electromechanical meters of the past were largely metal, and made great heat sinks. The new meters are mostly plastic, and do not conduct heat well. The issue lies in the customer-owned meter socket. Over years ( or decades) the connection in the meter socket weakens, creating a source of heat related to the current going through the connection. The old meter was vastly unaffected by this heat, and actually helped disapate it. The new solid-state meters are not able to do this. They get hot, and eventually melt. If the meter installer is not trained to identify heat damage, which can be difficult to spot at times, there could be a fire. The point of failure is the meter socket, not the meter.
There is not an increased cost of electricity, just a meter that is accurately measuring all the electricity that you are using. Over time, electromechanical meters slow down. The new meters are testing at 100%. Many customers will see an increase in their bill – not because they are getting cheated, because for many years the meter wasn’t fully measuring the usage, and the sale is finally over.
You are correct that the life expectancy of a solid-state meter is much less than that of a electromechanical meter. I believe that Seattle City Light stopped installing electromechanical meters around 2010, when they were no longer available. All meters are now solid-state meters; “smart” meters are meters with a radio built in. Even if you opt out, you are still going to get a solid-state meter : that is all that is being produced now. There are no lithium batteries, rather capacitors that hold a charge to keep data stored in the case of an outage.
As far as the meters being cheaply made, what isn’t nowadays? I can remember paying $300 for a dvd player, and now you can get them for under $30.
The term “smart meter” was originally coined in California for a system that never got off the ground. The utility would have given the customer a great discount on their rates ( like 50% off). The customer would install “smart” devices that the meter could talk to and through; panel, hot water tank, furnace, a/c, etc…) The utility would have permission to turn these devices off in an area as an alternative to rolling brown/blackouts. It never got started because all of these devices were not worth the cost to the customer. It would have been cheaper for them to get a back-up generator.
Unfortunately, a couple of op-eds started slandering the term, and now just about everything online says the meters are bad. From spying on you, to giving you cancer; these meters have been given a bad rap. It is a microburst of RF in the same band of frequencies as baby monitors and garage doors. If you are standing 15-20 feet from the meter, you would feel a greater affect from the earth’s magnetic field – but only the few miliseconds that it was transmitting.
I currently have one of these meters on my house. As someone who works in the field of metering, I am professionally confident that my family is safe, and that my bill is accurate. I can also see my daily and hourly usage, and don’t need to wait for a monthly bill to correct something like a hot water tank on the fritz, or a septic pump switch that is stuck in the on position.
I wish that I could agree with the advice to “google it” and see for yourself, but I can’t. Good luck trying to find an article that is pro “smart” meter. My advice is to go to your utility and ask to speak to a Journeyman Meterman. They will be able to explain how the meter works, and what the potential risks are.
One final note : If you are going to spend the money on an RF detector to show how bad these meters are, please remember to use the RF setting. If you try to set it to magnetic fields, you are going to get a lot of false positives. Wires with electricity on them give off a magnetic field – it is inherent in alternating current systems. Everything that runs on a/c will set off the detector on that setting – even a electromechanical meter.