Sue Kedgley: Smart power meters a threat to health and liberty

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Smart meters have some advantages. They can give a detailed picture of daily electricity use, such as the cost of a 15-minute shower. Photo / NZME.
Smart meters have some advantages. They can give a detailed picture of daily electricity use, such as the cost of a 15-minute shower. Photo / NZME.

Call me a Luddite, but I don't want a "smart" electricity meter installed at home, and certainly not without my knowledge or consent.

According to Meridian Energy, I will have no choice in the matter. Once they start installing smart meters in my neighbourhood they will put one on our house, whether we like it or not.

Smart meters are being fitted to replace old "analogue" meters and more than a million have already been installed.

There's no law mandating that power companies use them to measure our domestic electricity usage, although the Government has mandated that all old electricity meters are tested and recertified by 2015.

Power companies like Genesis and Meridian are installing them for commercial purposes, because they allow them to measure household electricity use, as often as minute by minute, from a remote location. This enables them to get rid of meter readers, and to collect valuable information about electricity use that can be used for marketing purposes or sold to third parties.

Smart meters have some advantages. They can give a detailed picture of daily electricity use, such as the cost of a 15-minute shower. This may encourage households to reduce electricity use.

But they are also intrusive.

They allow power companies to collect detailed information about people's home lives - when they get up, when they leave the house, when they turn on a computer - and some worry that the ability to gather this data amounts to an invasion of privacy.

Some groups claim they could be used as part of the infrastructure of a surveillance state.

Others are concerned that wireless-operated meters add to the electrical smog we are all exposed to. Once installed, they may pulse electromagnetic radiation into a home, emitting millisecond bursts of radio frequency thousands of times a day, according to documents supplied by one manufacturer.

You can't turn a smart meter off. It just pulses, 24/7.

It is established that some people are sensitive to electrical fields and microwave radiation and may not be able to tolerate a new and continuous source of emissions.

In Sweden, where electromagnetic sensitivity is recognised as an official disease, 3-5 per cent of the population is estimated to be electro-sensitive. That percentage of our population equates to about 135,000 people.

There are other concerns - that power companies could use smart meters to stop power to consumers who have been late paying their bills, or that they could overheat and cause fires. A spate of house fires linked to smart meters has led to mass recalls in some parts of Canada and the United States.

Some will dismiss these concerns as trivial, imaginary or unimportant.

But surely people should have a choice. And surely a power company should not be able to install a smart meter for commercial purposes, without the knowledge and consent of the household.

We are switching from Meridian to a company that guarantees it will not force a smart meter on to our home but I would like the Government to stipulate that smart meters cannot be installed without householder knowledge and informed consent.

If it doesn't I predict the forced installation will become as controversial here as it is in many other countries.

Sue Kedgley is a Wellington regional councillor and former Green MP.

- NZ Herald

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