Nearly 170 residents turn out to oppose smart meters

For weeks, Anoush Barzegar pestered city officials, agitating to have the city remove the smart meter that had been installed at her home. Two weeks ago her wish was granted.

Barzegar is one of five Glendale residents who have had their smart meters — which they believe makes them ill because of the radio frequency waves they emit, a claim officials deny — removed. When her story was shared at a forum organized by opponents of the technology Thursday night, many of the almost 170 people in attendance said they wanted theirs out, too. The digital meters transmit energy and water use data to the utilities that own and operate them.

But the city won’t be heeding those removal requests, at least not right away.

Atineh Haroutunian, Glendale Water & Power spokeswoman, said her department is waiting for the City Council to make a policy decision on the issue. That decision won’t come until after a state body that regulates investor-owned utilities comes out with its own ruling, which Glendale’s policy likely will model. The California Public Utilities Commission is expected to review the matter in December.

A group of residents who have been railing against smart meters organized the anti-smart-meter forum at the Glendale Moose Lodge to share their perspectives. The forum came a week before GWP’s planned forum on the subject at Glendale Community College.

Glendale has already installed 120,000 meters, but has placed about 70 electricity and 30 water customers on a delay list until the council rules on an opt-out policy. About five people have had their smart meters removed because a meter was mistakenly installed despite their inclusion on the list. Barzegar said she asked to be on the list, but the city didn’t have evidence to back that up.

GWP officials told Barzegar she’d have to pay about $270 to remove her meter and $18 a month to have a meter reader come to her home. She never got a bill. Charging those who want to opt-out of smart meters is one solution some in the utility world have been discussing. The city plans to spend about $70 million on smart meters, $20 million of which comes from federal stimulus money.

The new meters are expected to change energy and water consumption because customers will be able to see the cost of their utility usage in real time. Most City Council members support smart meters. Council member Rafi Manoukian, who attended the forum, does not.

“I did not expect that many people to show up,” he said. “There’s certainly large interest from the community about this issue.”

Attendees came from Los Angeles and Orange counties. In addition to health concerns, the forum also focused on privacy and cost concerns. Panelists, which included a utility consumer advocate, an electromagnetic field researcher and a privacy rights proponent, encouraged attendees to fight against the meters. They asked them to speak out at council meetings and talk to their neighbors about the issue.

Orlean Koehle, author of “Just Say No to Big Brother’s Smart Meters,” said she went as far as putting a fence, two dogs, a large sign and, finally, belting her meter to her house to prevent utility workers from removing her analog meter. Haroutunian said that tactic won’t work in Glendale.

She said officials have been meeting with several opponents to discuss their concerns. Some change their minds, others don’t.

“You can’t change the believers,” Haroutunian said.

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