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Consumers Report Public Safety Hazards and Interference Problems


8.  Consumers Report
Public Safety Hazards and Interference Problems


On the public safety front: Consumers have reported that the wireless smart meters are causing interference problems with home security systems, motion-sensor devices, baby monitors, wireless routers and cordless phones.  In addition to these, they present additional dangerous public safety hazards, sparking fires and explosions.   Shouldn't we require our utilities to make sure they warn us, verbally and with a written warning notice, before installing the meters about these potential problems, who to contact in case this happens, and who will be liable or pay for any repairs, damage and correcting these problems?

You've read about problems with PG&E's SmartMeter, especially the folks who claim it's causing huge increases in their electrical bills. But that's not the only issue with the vaunted high-tech device.

As Pacific Gas & Electric's SmartMeter installation has rolled across Northern California, dozens of readers have contacted Action Line complaining about newly found erratic behavior with their household electronic gadgets. A conflict occurs, apparently, when the SmartMeter electronically transmits information back to the utility.

Cordless phones and crib monitors, patio speakers and wireless headsets are spitting out static and startling pops and crackles, they complained. Also affected, they said, arewireless microphones, security systems, motion detectors and remotely controlled garage doors. This equipment operates largely on the 900- to 928-megahertz radio spectrum.

"Right about the time that SmartMeters were installed, our phone went insane," wrote Jane Meckman of San Jose

This is something PG&E is loath to talk about even though the company promised transparency when it brought SmartMeters to our homes.

When Action Line asked PG&E about the complaints, the utility said little and put up a bureaucratic hurdle to get responses to readers' concerns, going so far as to require notarized waivers of confidentiality.

That's the definition of stonewalling.

PG&E knew it had a problem as far back as early 2009.

...Meanwhile the complaints keep flowing in to Action Line, about 60 so far.

"Your article concerning the PG&E SmartMeter was exactly what I needed to see," wrote Mario after one of my earlier columns. "Ever since PG&E has installed that stupid device, our DirecTV has been having massive signal issues."

Violeta Perez of San Jose wrote that, "Ever since my SmartMeter was installed, my home alarm system has been going off randomly."

"A mystery has been solved for us," wrote Veronica Wong, complaining that her baby monitor has suddenly picked up static.

PG&E -- which was dinged by the Public Utilities Commission last week for its customer service -- has handled this poorly. Radio interference from the SmartMeter and other electronic devices is an irritating fact of life. But when the company brought this device into homes without giving us a choice about whether we wanted it, PG&E owed its customers an honest discussion of what we could expect.

Failing to do so has turned an annoyance into a major pain.

Source: Mercury News: Readers: SmartMeters interfere with baby monitors, other household gadgets, September 6, 2010, updated January 24, 2011: http://www.mercurynews.com/top-stories/ci_16007725


According to the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA), there have been reports of wireless security alarms "acting strangely" since the installation of smart meters in their homes.

Meters use ZigBee wireless protocol to communicate with smart appliances and other electronics in the home.

"Alarm service providers should closely monitor the potential for interference to alarm systems, make appropriate filings with the FCC and others, and help employees understand the issue and how it may affect their installation and operational practices," the CSAA advises. "The difficulty of detecting sources of interference and accurately prevent it enhances the problems."

A report from consulting group Sage Associates says, "Devices in the home may experience RF bursts of high enough intensity to cause malfunction and/or damage. These events are reported where smart meters have been installed."

The report adds that alarms using unlicensed frequencies are "automatically" at higher risk, adding the interference creates "the possibility of [the alarm] going haywire, causing false alarms, costly city fines for responding to false alarms, and headaches for the homeowner."

Source: CEPro: “Do Smart Meters Interfere with Alarms? Association issues warning that electrical smart meters can cause wireless security systems go 'haywire.'” January 21, 2011: http://www.cepro.com/article/do_smart_meters_interfere_with_alarms/

Want a good reason to have your wireless smart meter removed from your home?  PG&E replaced a newly installed wireless smart meter with a traditional analog one when a resident complained that the meter was interfering with her outdoor motion sensor lights at night, and PG&E could not find a fix.  That's one way to hang onto your old analog meter!

It was reported in the Marin IJ Tuesday that a Corte Madera resident- Jane Levinsohn- complained to PG&E that after a ‘smart’ meter was installed on her home, her outdoor motion sensor lights were switching on and off for no reason in the middle of the night.   PG&E came out and tried using a ‘lower power’ version of the wireless meter, but the interference was still a problem.  They eventually replaced it with the old analog meter. 

Source: Stop Smart Meters! Blog:  "Smart Meter Interfering with your Appliances? We’ll be right out. Smart Meter Interfering with Your Sleep? Sorry you’re out of luck," January 13, 2011: http://stopsmartmeters.wordpress.com/2011/01/13/smart-meter-interfering-with-your-appliances-well-be-right-out-smart-meter-interfering-with-your-sleep-sorry-youre-out-of-luck/


A utility ratepayer explained the technical reasons why wireless smart meters are interfering with your home appliances:

Smart Meters on the noisiest frequency spectrum in the USA
On October 8th, 2010 Marty from Modesto (not verified) says:
    Smart meters are on 900 mhz. I am an amateur radio operator and I use 902-928 MHZ.
The 900 MHZ band is so noisy because:
Amateur radio Operators use it to transmit and receive
Industrial devices use it
Scientific devices use it
Medical devices use it
SMART METERS USE IT!
The reason Smart Meters use it.....it is free to use. Your electric company didn't have to buy a frequency spectrum. So they make out that way. With ALL the interference on that band of course your smart meter is not going to register properly and your electric or gas company gets more money again.
It is a win win situation for utility companies.
We as consumers lose big time. My Modesto Irrigation District electric bill is up about 90 bucks a month since they installed this so called smart meter.
They tell me I am so lucky because my other meter must have been reading wrong and I got off for years, cheaper than I should have. Pure Rehtoric!
We need to file a class action lawsuit. At least make them buy a clean frequency spectrum to send the data.

Source: Utility Consumer's Action Network on-line forum, http://www.ucan.org/forum/forums/energy/sdg_e_disputes/billing_dispute#comment-29684
      

In Canada, consumers have been experiencing a host of interference problems due to their wireless smart meters:

In the rush to be leaders, hydro may have cut corners and chosen a meter technology that could instead waste millions, while causing unexpected interference to various wireless equipment, such as cordless phones, crib monitors and patio speakers. Smart Meters use frequencies which are unlicenced, meaning that under the regulations, the channels must be shared with other users, including low-power consumer electronics. Unlicenced equipment is prevented by law from causing interference to other devices, but also has no government protection from interference, even if it causes undesirable operation.
...
Indeed, smart meters do cause significant interference to 900 MHz equipment, heard as loud pops and crackles up to a hundred times per minute. While Hydro has never publicized the fact they knew in advance that these smart meters would likely cause problems to consumer devices, many residents have reacted by discarding perfectly good electronics thought to be malfunctioning.
"My phone was popping in my ear so badly I couldn't hear anyone, so I threw it away and bought a new one," stated Helene Hanley of Chatham.

Unfortunately, contrary to the assertion that users will simply switch to other bands, many new devices continue to use 900 MHz, including some phones marked as 2.4 GHz. The problem of interference is unlikely to go away soon, causing consumers to waste more money on devices rendered useless by the meter involuntarily hung on every home served by Chatham-Kent Energy.


Source: The Maple City Star, "Smart Meters Could Waste Millions," July 4, 2007,
http://www.maplecitystar.ca/archive.php?article=20070704-smartmeters.html


...The Smart Meters installed by Chatham-Kent Hydro utilize an unlicenced radio transmitter operating on the 902-928 MHz band to convey data back to the billing system...These meters contain a small radio transmitter, in this case a TUNet module.
...Much consumer equipment exists in this band...Most of these consumers are not aware that they are receiving interference from all the Smart Meters within range of their equipment. In many cases, the interference, which causes random loud pops or clicks, renders the devices completely useless to the consumer.
..In one recent sample, over one hundred “pops” were documented in a single minute, and this kind of intensity is observed throughout much of the day and night...The problem with Chatham-Kent Hydro’s assurance that this is “acceptable performance for devices operating in the 900-928 MHZ band” is that it is ILLEGAL to cause this interference in the first place. Industry Canada requires all equipment operating under RSS-210 to cause no interference to other users, including licence-exempt users.
...When these rules were implemented, Industry Canada and the various stakeholders which contributed input to the bandplan did not envision a mesh network of 32,000 such devices effectively monopolizing the entire band in a geographic area. The certification is for a single TUNet module, not an entire network.
...If an individual or business is suffering from permanent interference which renders their investment in wireless equipment useless, the law supports legal action against the offending source of interference. It is quite likely that the courts would order compensation, or could even issue an order to cease operation. Considering the many thousands of affected devices, a group of cases could be certified for Class Action.
..Chatham-Kent Hydro neglected to consult with the Amateur Radio community, which could have easily alerted Hydro to existing and proposed uses of the 902-928 MHz band. Further, there were no public consultations with the many citizens who own licence-exempt wireless devices operating on these frequencies. Indeed, many people may not even be aware what frequency their devices work on, or even that they use radio signals at all. The average consumer would rely on the honest disclosure by Chatham-Kent Hydro that the Smart Meter program might impact their devices in a noticeable way and render them useless.
...Embarrassed hydro officials were summoned before Chatham-Kent council, where they gave a glowing report that was seriously misleading, and promised to help customers experiencing interference.
In private, Chatham-Kent hydro told the writer that they had seriously underestimated the interference the meters would cause, but this is not what council was told. They admitted nobody on staff had any experience with radio systems, and could not notch out the interference. Hydro then proceeded to issue press releases promoting their Smart Meter progress, including photo ops with the mayor, and winning an industry award.

For more information on this detailed investigation of the technical interference, legal, cost, and privacy concerns surrounding wireless smart meters, read VENC3Q: "Smart Meter Interference: Assessment of Chatham-Kent Hydro Smart Meter Implementation," http://www.ve3ncq.ca/wordpress/?page_id=10

Also read:


Whistleblower installer reveals problems with faulty installation:
concerns over methods and practices causing arcing, shorts and fires


A former installer of wireless smart meters in northern California also detailed shortcuts and rushed training that makes the wireless smart meters dangerous and deadly.  According to the whistleblower:

We received only two weeks of training before they sent us out to do the installations. Though the procedure is relatively simple, if you get it wrong this can lead to arcing, shorts- even house fires. The blades on the back of the meter have to be aligned properly with the jaws on the socket the meter gets placed in. I kept hearing one of the managers say, “you guys weren’t trained properly.”

...Many of the installers would come back to the yard and report that they had come across meters that were hanging by an electrical wire, or other clearly unsafe conditions. There was a lot of pressure on workers to install as many meters as possible in a day in order to earn bonuses. One employee went out into the Santa Cruz Mountains and I think he is still out there somewhere he got so disoriented. Needless to say, improper training, and being under incredible pressure, there HAS TO be error, especially with new people working in new territory. I overheard numerous times while at work, “you could have burned that goddamned house down.”

...I really feel these days that big brother- in the form of the government and corporations working together- is screwing us big time. I hope we can get regulators to pay attention on this as I believe there is a real chance of more people getting hurt if nothing is done.


Stop Smart Meters! Exclusive: Interview with the Wellington Energy Whistleblower, January 26, 2011, http://stopsmartmeters.wordpress.com/2011/01/26/stop-smart-meters-exclusive-interview-with-a-wellington-energy-whistleblower/

More Fires, Shocks, Malfunctioning Appliances
 and Shoddy Installation Reports

The EMF Safety Network has several stories about fires associated with the wireless smart meters, including this one about a smart meter that exploded:

The PG&E Smart Meter has come under fire recently because some customers said their bills have skyrocketed since the new meter was installed, but one north of the river business said their Smart Meter had blown up.

Some employees at Henry M.M. Engines said their Smart Meter caught fire, which sparked concern and questioned the safety of these new meters. On Wednesday, a PG&E technician was called out to replace the meter after employees found the device burned up and lying on the ground.

"Basically it was an explosion. I saw the meter on the ground and the face plate was blew off and the whole meter was blackened. Even the breaker box that housed the meter was blackened by what seemed to be an electrical short," said Vernon Nelson, an employee.


Another employee wondered how safe the meters are in general, especially for residential families?

ABC 23 contacted PG&E who said they are not aware of any smart meters catching fire or blowing up. However the PG&E technician told the employee as he was replacing the meter, that he had replaced at least 15 meters around town due to the same problem they had, said an employee."I wonder how many houses have burned down because of these Smart Meters catching fire?" said Nelson.


Source: KERO-23 ABC News Bakersfield, California: "Smart Meter Blows Up At Business, Employees Question Safety," Posted November 12, 2009, and Updated November 13, 2009, http://www.turnto23.com/north_river_county/21601647/detail.html

Go to the EMF Safety Network Website to read even more fire and interference stories, reports, documents:
http://emfsafetynetwork.org/?page_id=1280

Here are more stories that the EMF Safety Network has also amassed from consumers reporting interference problems, appliances shorting out and destroyed from the wireless smart meter installations:

See "Smart Meter Comments": http://emfsafetynetwork.org/?page_id=1223

Meanwhile, in Texas, wireless smart meters have caught on fire at two homes, due to old wiring:

Smart meter installations are being blamed for two house fires in Arlington this week.The problem isn't the meters themselves, but instead what's happening to electrical wiring.

The first fire happened Monday on Brook Hill Lane and the second happened Tuesday on Grants Parkway. Arlington fire investigator Morkita Anthony found that when the old meters were pulled out, the main electric feeds to the houses were accidentally pulled as well. “What it's doing is making contact somehow with the electric box or the wiring inside and causing a short, which is causing a fire," Anthony said.

WFAA-TV Dallas/Fort Worth, TX: Fires spark during smart meter installations, Posted on August 19, 2010 at 8:38 PM, Updated Thursday, Aug 19 at 9:30 PM, http://www.wfaa.com/news/local/Fires-Spark-During-Smart-Meter-Installations-101115429.html

A newspaper reported the proposed fix to prevent more such fires in Texas: turn off the house power before installing the wireless smart meter!

The Chief Executive Officer of Oncor says the company has a new procedure for installation of smart meters after two house fires in Arlington last week. Robert Shapard says old wiring in two homes could not support the new smart meters. The company now cuts power to the house while the meters are being installed…then as the change is made…electricians check the wiring to make sure there aren’t any problems.

This report above generated these reader Comments about costly interference problems, more fires in Houston, and questions about liability for house damage due to smart meter fires:


Renee Callahan
My mother had the “new smart meter” installed about a month ago.Since then she has had trouble with the lights blinking on and off.So on this past Friday(sept 17) she called TXU about the problem.They sent Oncor out late that evening while she was gone.Imagine the suprise she had when she returned home late with groceries and NO POWER! A note was on her front door saying….lugs in meter base need to be replaced fire hazard call back when repairs are made we will restore serv.After several calls to TXU ,ONCOR(representatives were very rude)she was told that she needed to find an electrician to fix problem at her expense.My mother is disabled and elderly and my sister who also lives with her is disabled.Because this was after hours more fees were charged..a total of$1483.66 to fix this problem that was caused by ONCOR because they decided to put in “smart meter”If there was a problem with lugs,was this not noticed when they were installing “smart meter” or simply that problem didn’t exist until installation of “smart meter”? So here it is 1:35 Monday afternoon and still no power.We are waiting for inspection then we can notify Oncor to have power restored.This is so wrong.These older homes are not equipped to handle these “smart meters”.So why put them in homes that are older and most likely are senior citizens living there and they are on fixed incomes.Something is so wrong with this picture.Do we still live in the United States of America?Are these “smart meters” going to join the list of many other recalled items from China? September 20, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Brian D.
Smart meters fires are now occuring in Houston as well through Centerpoint. I had to pay $875 after a smart meter caused a fire at the meter box. I was told by Centerpoint that the meter box needed to be up to date and they denied my claim. I know of someone whose appliances burned out following a surge caused by a smart meter install. I wound up using an attorney who was able to recover my costs. He is now specializing in these cases since they are popping up all over the country causing property damage and physical harm. Contact Brad Leigh at the Leigh Law Firm (281) 419-3476. February 14, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Brad Leigh & Associates, LLC

We are investigating the extent of this problem and concerned that someone could be seriously injured or killed if North Housotn pole Line and Centerpoint Energy continue to install these meters on older homes that don’t have the wiring to handle the new “smart-meters.” NHPL has a very lucrative contract with CenterPoint to install more than 2,000,000 of these meters around town. They are supposed to hang a tag on the meter if the wiring isn’t sufficient, but of course they don’t get paid to hang tags they get paid to install meters and theiein lies the problem. Our website is woodlandsinjurylawyer.com, but we handle cases all over Texas and would be happy to visit with anyone who has experienced a fire or other injury as a result of the smart meter installations. February 15, 2011 at 9:55 am

Source: CBS-DFW, "Oncor Changing Smart Meter Installation After Fires," August 24, 2010, http://dfw.cbslocal.com/2010/08/24/oncor-changing-smart-meter-installation-after-fires/


In Virginia, a Danville resident reports an explosion on her home, and her fear that her house could have caught on fire and endangered  her family and 6-year-old daughter, whose bed is on the other side of wall housing the meter.

"We were getting up, getting ready for school and for work," said Kari Pyrtle, a Danville resident. "All of the sudden the lights started flickering on and off and we hit the breaker box. Go outside and we could smell electrical burning. And we looked and our whole smart meter was turning black."

Pytle called the fire department.

"They said if we were not at home or asleep, our house would have caught on fire," she said. "I mean, on the other side of that wall is my 6 year old daughter's bed. What if we would have been asleep?"

Pyrtle she says her problems haven't stopped. The city repaired the meter and the fuse box, but every appliance plugged in at the time is now broken and she wants the responsible party to pay for them.

"I got documentation saying it is the smart meter when I talked to the gentleman at the smart meter," said Pyrtle, referring to a letter from the city's insurance company.

The letter says, "the cause of the loss is a defective meter and/or the installation by SENSUS". SENSUS is the meter company.

"SENSUS, he says that it's the city's fault," explained a frustrated Pyrtle. "So you know, they're pointing blame at each other and at this point I don't care who's fault it is. I just want my stuff to be taken care of."

Source: WSET-13 ABC News, Lynchburg, Danville, Roanoke: "Danville Woman Says Meter is a Fire Hazard," November 11, 2010, http://www.wset.com/Global/story.asp?S=13487932


In Australia and New Zealand, consumers have reported electrical shocks from their smart meters due to shoddy and incorrect installations.  A recent safety investigation by smart meter installers found electrical hazards in 3,500 homes.


The state government has moved to reassure Victorians that the installation of smart meters is being done as safely as possible. However, they have some explaining to do after a report came in this morning revealing that an incorrectly installed meter shorted outpower to a 75 year old man's home.

Source: 3AW 693 News Talk: "More Meter Madness," February 14, 2011, http://www.3aw.com.au/blogs/3aw-generic-blog/more-meter-madness/20110214-1at6r.html

VICTORIA'S energy regulator has conceded smart meter contractors might lack required skills and is reviewing the qualifications of workers rolling out the $2 billion scheme.

The Sunday Age can also reveal that, in the course of their work, smart meter installers have identified dangerous and possibly life-threatening electrical hazards in 3500 Victorian homes.

Energy Safe Victoria has requested electricity distribution companies provide the names, qualifications and employment details of the hundreds of contractors installing smart meters across the state.

,,,The regulator recently moved to allay fears over the smart meter program, after a Highett woman received an electric shock when her meter was incorrectly installed. It is understood the qualifications of the installer in that incident sparked the regulator's concerns.

...This comes as a Richmond woman has claimed her son received an electric shock arising from the failure of a contractor to check wiring after installing a smart meter in August. Milena Adams said after her smart meter was installed, light globes exploded and household appliances dimmed her lights. She says that in December, her son received a shock when touching a shower tap. The electricity company CitiPower checked her house immediately.

The Sunday AGE: "Smart meter shock: electrical hazards found in 3500 homes," February 13, 2011, http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/smart-meter-shock-electrical-hazards-found-in-3500-homes-20110212-1are0.html

First responders are also worried about the increase in malfunctions and fires:

Front line firefighters are concerned about the number of household power meter boxes that are bursting into flames.

There have been 67 callouts in Christchurch to electrical malfunctions so far this year, and new smart meters have been involved in three in the last five days.

Graham Hobbs considers himself lucky. He was woken at 4:30am to find his smart meter on fire.

"I lifted this up it was still glowing and smoking, and slammed it shut to try and seal it off."

The following night Kelvin Dixon, who lives nearby, suffered a similar fate.

"I pulled into my drive way and found my meter box on fire great amounts of smoke."

Mr Dixon is a registered electrician and says the contactor that sits beneath the smart meter caught fire and melted.

"I have suspicions that maybe the installation the terminals weren't tightened enough."

"It was very dangerous," says station officer Murray Jamieson. "The whole thing burnt out completely, last night's one was a melt down and it was significantly dangerous."

News 3 NZ: "Fire-prone meter boxes causing concern, June 3, 2010: http://www.3news.co.nz/Fire-prone-meter-boxes-causing-concern/tabid/423/articleID/159133/Default.aspx



And in Canada, a consumer whose house caught on fire wants to know who's liable?

The smart meter on the side of my house caught fire and per the Fire Inspector it was the cause of the fire. Hydro came and took the meter saying it was there property. Who is at fault and if there property burnt my house why should I have to pay my deductible and risk my insurance to go up? Will my insurance go after the Hydro company? Should I get a good Lawyer?

Yahoo Answers: "Smart Meter caused a fire and hydro said meter was there property Who pays for the damages?", http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100724135841AAE29x3


POTENTIAL INTERFERENCE PROBLEMS


Above Graphic source: San Jose Mercury News, Jan. 24, 2011, http://www.mercurynews.com/top-stories/ci_16007725

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DISCUSSION OF MAIN CONCERNS: Read these and helpful information about the wireless smart meter issue -- click each of the discussion items below. 

1.  First and Foremost: Are Wireless Meters Mandatory?

2.  Smart Meters Unite Consumers, Citizens and Residents from Opposite Backgrounds and Political Affiliations

3.  Actions Being Taken: What Are Consumers Doing To Protect Their Civil Liberties and Affirm Their Rights to Refuse or Opt Out?

4.  Going Deep: Understanding the Big Picture and Real Costs and Concerns, Helpful News Reports and Consumer Advocacy Reports and Analysis

5.  Smart Meter Consumers Anger Grows Over Higher Utility Bills

6.  Privacy and Security Concerns Still Unresolved

7.  Health Concerns Grow: Consumers Are Getting Sick From Wireless Smart Meters

8.  Consumers Report Public Safety Hazards and Interference Problems

9. Cities and States Outside of California Pull Back

10. Resident Campaigns In Other States

11. Options

12. Lessons Learned: What's Happened in Australia

13. Lessons Learned: Major Problems for Canada

14. Actions You Can Take & Other Helpful Organizations and Websites






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