The consipracists, however, are not worried about low-income households or energy conservation. There are really two flavors of the smart meter conspiracy. First is an irrational fear of technology that manifests as a concern about the radiation from smart meters being a health hazard. Yes, really [example]. This is not a legitimate concern, as the radiation levels are even below those of cell phones, and it is unlikely that many residents will spend significant time with their heads agains their electricity meter. The second version of the conspiracy is rooted in a deep distrust of government and an overly aggressive view of privacy. These are the people, like the ones cited in this Grist post [LINK] and the accompanying AP news article [LINK] about the smart meter opposition in Texas, who believe that the smart meters are ... well, let's just boil it down, they think that the smart meters allow the government to spy on them at home [great example, go ahead a browse this crazy site, I'll wait.]. There might be some actual privacy issues with smart meters (which that example kind of hits, but then goes to crazy), such as the potential for utilities to synthesize usage and sell the information to interested parties (who want to target their marketing efforts). This probably isn't much of a concern at this point, as it is unclear that utilities are savvy enough to profitably undertake such an analysis. Really, this comes down to some far-right-wing ideas that get mixed up by fear mongers into ridiculous conspiracy theories, encapsulated by this quote from the above cited blog, "This is all part of the radical green agenda that is being forced down the throats of people all over the world."
Maybe I should just list a couple of points that I think are relevant (in no particular order):
- Energy conservation is a good idea, and represents one of the "stabilization wedges" that we talk about as currently available solutions to global warming. [LINK]
- The radiation associated with electronics is not harmful. [LINK]
- One of the criticisms that the opponents of smart meters seem to bring up often is that the FCC does not have strong enough restrictions on radiation [example]. Yet, as pointed out in Grist and the AP story above, these people tend to be on the far-right/libertarian/tea-party fringe of the political spectrum, meaning that philosophically they are opposed to government regulation (in favor of letting the "market" work out the appropriate solutions). This is completely inconsistent. I don't think this is an argument against the smart meter opposition, just a point that I wish would be discussed.
- The possibility of utilities selling the information aside, there seems to be a general fear of a degradation of privacy with smart meters, but I don't think there is any evidence that any personal information could be or is being collected by these meters.
- The transition to smart meters is being driven by the "market" as utilities try to reduce costs and maximize efficiency. This is a direct descendant of the deregulation of utilities in the USA, which right-leaning folks should be applauding (if they were being consistent with their purported economic philosophy).
- Because the utilities are deregulated, this information would be flowing to the utilities, and not the government. That means that there must be an extra layer of conspiracy in order to bring the government into the picture. Each additional layer of conspiracy makes the theory less and less plausible.
I think I can leave it there.
Note that in the links above that are cited as examples, I have used the "rel=nofollow" attribute which prevents search engines from following the links and improving those cites' search rankings. I decided to do that because those cites, while entertaining, do not present a useful view of the issue. The other links are normal, and represent appropriate source material.