Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

CPUC: Thanks for Protecting Us

This past Wednesday (September 14, 2011) I had the “priveledge” of attending a portion of a meeting of the California Public Utilities Commission, or CPUC. The meeting ran all day and was for the express purpose of addressing “opt out” options for the people who don’t want the new “smart meter” installed at their home.

I attended as part of a coalition of angry citizens, which included Joshua Hart, director of stopsmartmeters.org. To our dismay (but not our surprise) the meeting was limited in its scope to simple issues. The presiding administrator, Judge Amy Yip-Kikugawa, refused to hear any question about the overarching issue – whether smart meters are actually a good idea or if they damage human health – and stuck very strictly to the opt-out agenda.

The meeting itself represented a concession by several utilities to address the “small” segment of the population who had objected to smart meters. The “fact” that the objectors are such a small group is what justified the outrageous statement by the representative from, I believe it was San Diego Power and Gas, to say that these people would have the freedom to “opt out” of the smart meter – if they were willing to pay for it’s removal and any extra cost incurred in the process of having the old-fashioned meter read by an actual person. The representatives from the other companies present, PG&E, SCE, and several more, were quick to agree.

In case your brain just dropped out on the floor, this would mean that you would have to pay to have your smart meter removed and replaced by the good old mechanical type (or a “non-radio” digital model) and then pay to have your meter read so that they could figure out how much to charge you for electricity. Yeah. And the power companies were adament that this was IF people were allowed to opt out, which they were opposed to in the first place.

This logic is possible in a magic fairy land where only a few people (the lunatic fringe) object to smart meters. But why, when there is so much evidence that exposure to levels of microwave radiation such as the smart meters emit, are there so few objectors?

Let me tell you how they (PG&E and many other corporations in many other situations) maintain the image of the opposition as the lunatic fringe…

They start out by simply rolling out a new product, in this case a microwave-producing electricity meter but it could be a lawn chemical, a material for baby bottles, or something else. Then, when a few little questions are asked about the health effects of this product, they whip out there handy-dandy, pre-prepared marketing-department-created misinformation sheet.

The timing here is important. The product is already “out there,” and there have been no news reports of people dropping dead. So when people get naturally curious, they’re all too ready to swallow the dismissal of health concerns. This curiosity/satisfaction pattern is important because it sets up a feeling in the populace that everything is just fine.

That good feeling is what allows the critical phase: the discrediting of the small handful of people that actually does some investigating into the health effects of the new product. Everyone else has been curious, and has been satisfied – mostly because their own laziness and trusting tendencies prevented them from doing any real research.

So now it’s easy to say that the dissenters are just a handful of psychosomatic worriers. This image then makes the group unattractive, preventing others from joining for fear of looking like lunatics themselves.

Judge Yip-Kikugawa is an administrative judge employed by the CPUC. Throughout the proceedings, her remarks, commands, vocal quality, and body language all told me that she was stuck. As she made expressly clear, the smart meters were coming, and there would not even be any discussion of stopping them. I got the impression that she understood the situation perfectly: If we were to actually discuss the things that should have been discussed before the smart meter plan went through, the CPUC would look exactly like what they are – a bunch of bungling, bumbling dupes who bought the party (power provider and smart meter manufacturer) line without hardly a question.

They believed it, for example, when they were told that a signal would only be sent from the smart meter back to the company 4 times per day, and that the signal was “1/1000 as strong as a cell phone.” The truth is that the meters send out a signal (to the company or to each other, as part of the “network”) hundreds of times per day on average. And the strength of those signals is incredibly variable, in some cases hundreds of times STRONGER than a cell phone.

But none of that matter now. The decision has been made and, no matter that it was based on falsities, it will not be revisited.

And the power company reps went on to use their marketing-department words and phrases like, “freedom of choice” ad nauseum. They seemed to believe that telling us that we have freedom of choice will make the fact easier to swallow that we really don’t.

The entire meeting can be seen here.

 -Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

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