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Some Glendale and Burbank residents resist new smart-grid system

Critics fear adverse health effects from the new 'smart meters' and don't want the utilities to be able to monitor their water and power usage in real time. City officials consider letting them opt out.

May 17, 2011|By Melanie Hicken, Los Angeles Times
  • Technician Timur Bayer installs a smart meter at a Glendale residence. Officials say the new system will allow the utility and its customers to track water and power usage in real time.
Technician Timur Bayer installs a smart meter at a Glendale residence.… (Raul Roa, Glendale News…)

Glendale and Burbank officials are touting their new "smart meters" project as an exciting technological advancement that will help the utilities and customers track real-time water and electrical use.

But a small group of residents is resisting, saying they're worried about the health effects of the radio waves emitted by the meters. They also say the utilities' ability to view electricity and water usage as it occurs is intrusive and could change the rate structure.

When a contractor arrived to install a smart meter at Erik Bottema's residence, the technician was ordered off his property. Bottema said he's so concerned that he may install a cage around his old meters to prevent them from being replaced.

"It's a huge Big Brother issue," he said. "I work in law enforcement and I find it crazy. It makes me angry that they are going to do this."

He and other concerned residents are in a holding pattern as Burbank and Glendale officials consider allowing residents to drop out of the updated grid.

Utility officials say residents have no reason to be concerned, citing studies that say the wireless smart meters fall within federal guidelines for radiofrequency emissions and expose residents to far less electromagnetic radiation than other common appliances.

"Most of us stand in front of our microwave or hold a cellphone to our ear for longer than we will ever be near one of these meters or any of these devices," said Joanne Fletcher, assistant general manager of Burbank Water & Power.

But Burbank resident Kiku Lani countered that unlike personal wireless devices — some of which she opts not to have in her home — the smart meters are being forced on customers.

"We can turn [personal] machines on and off; we aren't exposed to it 24/7," said Lani, who has also fought against cellphone towers in residential neighborhoods.

Officials at both utilities say they will postpone installing the meters for concerned residents while they await a ruling from the California Public Utilities Commission, which has ordered Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to create ways for customers to opt out of the new wireless meters.

Although the state commission does not regulate municipal utilities, Glendale and Burbank officials said they would probably follow the agency's direction for a potential opt-out provision.

Glendale has installed 76,000 smart meters so far, and only a dozen residents have asked to have their installation put on hold, said Ned Bassin, assistant general manager for Glendale Water & Power.

And in Burbank, where crews will begin installing the smart meters next month, even fewer concerns have been expressed, officials said.

melanie.hicken@latimes.com

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