Listen, Then Ignore

Can citizens outsmart EWEB smart meters?

The Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB) met Feb. 17 and dutifully accepted public testimony addressing the main agenda item quietly described in an internal memo and low-profiled to the public: “Management has negotiated contracts with two providers of essential Advanced Metering Infrastructure services, hardware and software (Harris and Sensus). Management seeks approval of these two contracts to allow for the AMI project to proceed into the initial implementation phase during 2015.”

Our public testimony, as on several previous occasions, overwhelmingly opposed the installation of smart meters. Over the last few years we have provided EWEB with substantial evidence regarding 1) potential health hazards of continuous involuntary exposure to electromagnetic frequency radiation, 2) potential liability for such damage, the costs of which would be borne by owner/ratepayers, 3) demonstrated vulnerability of this technology to hacking, 4) demonstrated vulnerability of the meters to fires, 5) objectionable continuous transmission to the utility of data regarding specific electrical appliance usage within the home, potentially accessible by government, that would violate Fourth Amendment protections against warrantless searches and 6) testimony by then-CIA director David Petraeus that the government intends to use these meters to spy on citizens. And for the final nail in the coffin, reports show that these smart grids and meters installed elsewhere have failed to deliver the proclaimed “electric resource benefits” for customers — and quite the opposite in some cases.

Evidence presented to the EWEB board has included a comprehensive PowerPoint presentation by Dr. Paul Dart that reported experimental data on DNA damage and inflammatory responses to EMR radiation as well as epidemiological data from several cities correlating proximity to cell towers with increased cancer rates. This induced EWEB to adopt Resolution 1322 in October 2013 that “granted approval to the creation and execution of an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) project using implementation strategy 2 (also known as ‘opt in’)” changing the default position by specifying that “customers must request an AMI-enabled meter” rather than having to pro-actively refuse one (“opt out”).

Despite this compromise, EWEB remains insistent upon imposing AMI on the whole community. Their next move emerged at the Feb. 17 board meeting. Following the usual public testimony in strong opposition, EWEB General Manager Roger Gray delivered sanguine assurances that all would be well, providing cover for board members to ignore the public voice and quickly, unanimously vote to approve the contracts. For the record, commissioners added their scripted, perfunctory personal excuses. Retired U.S. Army sergeant James Manning, for example, said he had reviewed the evidence and was confident there would be no problems (despite lacking expertise in cell biology or epidemiology).

Listen politely to “free speech” and then ignore it. This formula has long been routine in Eugene (e.g., regarding City Hall) and elsewhere in our land of the free. Princeton and Northwestern university political scientists recently published a study comparing a 20-year data set of 1,779 federal policy outcomes with public opinion surveys and interest group positions on these policies, concluding that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” Consistent with these findings, we the people don’t much influence EWEB. But who does? And why?

EWEB’s end-run plan is to install Sensus smart meters (which have caused fires) universally when meter replacements are needed, AMI-enabled for those who opt in and disabled for the rest of us. A sales and incentive campaign offering “value-added services” will be launched to persuade the hold-outs. Meter-readers will join the unemployment rolls in the neoliberal capitalist tradition. And who will control AMI-enablement? Must we simply trust EWEB?

Ironically, while Commissioner Manning acknowledges on EWEB’s website that “EWEB must prudently seek a secondary clean water source to ensure an uninterrupted supply in the event of an unforeseen disaster,” one rationale for spending $27 million to $30 million for AMI, plus an additional $1.2 million for “meter data management” software, is to “help EWEB provide customers more timely information about water use in the event of a major water supply interruption.” How about spending the money on prevention instead — perhaps to secure that secondary source.