Erik Bottema isn’t enthused about the city’s plans to install a high-tech “smart meter” at his north Glendale home.
Earlier this year, he ordered a contractor hired by Glendale Water & Power to install the new meters off of his property. He has since contemplated installing a cage around his meter to prevent its replacement.
Glendale and Burbank officials have lauded their respective multimillion-dollar smart-grid projects — which will allow two-way communication with the utility and let customers track real-time water and electricity consumption — as an exciting technological advancement.
But Bottema and a small group of Glendale and Burbank residents have resisted, saying they’re concerned about the health impacts of the radio waves that the wireless meters emit. They also say the utility’s ability to view electric and water usage as it occurs is intrusive and could change the rate structure.
“It’s a huge Big Brother issue,” Bottema said. “I work in law enforcement and I find it crazy. It makes me angry that they are going to do this.”
Now, Bottema and other concerned residents are in a holding pattern as Burbank and Glendale officials mull whether to create a way for residents to opt out of the updated grid.
Utility officials say residents have no reason to be concerned, citing studies that have determined 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 cell phone to our ear for longer than we will ever be near one of these meters or any of these devices,” said Burbank Water & Power Assistant General Manager Joanne Fletcher.
But Burbank resident Kiku Lani countered that unlike personal wireless devices — some of which she opts not to have in her home — utilities are forcing the smart meters 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 cell towers in residential neighborhoods.
Officials at both utilities say they have agreed to postpone installing the meters for concerned residents while they await developments from much larger residential protests in Northern California against Pacific Gas & Electric’s smart-meter plan.
The California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates investor-owned utilities, last month ordered the company to create ways for concerned customers to opt out from the new wireless meters. The commission is expected to rule on the utility’s proposal in the coming months.
Although Glendale and Burbank utilities do not come under the state commission, local utility officials said they would likely still follow its direction for a potential opt-out provision.
“If the [commission] comes out with a proposal with how to handle that, we would present it here,” said Glendale Water & Power Assistant General Manager Ned Bassin.
Of the 76,000 smart meters installed in Glendale so far, only a dozen residents have asked to have their installation put on hold, Bassin added.
And in Burbank, where crews will begin installing the smart meters next month, even fewer concerns have been expressed, officials said.
Still, utility officials say they intend to calm as many residential concerns as they can.
“But my fear is there will be some people that we can’t come to consensus with, and that’s unfortunate,” Fletcher said, adding that they “want people to believe and trust that the utility is working in their best interest.”