Marin Voice: SmartMeters and the architecture of democracy

By Larry Bragman, Mayor of Fairfax, CA

ON AUG. 4, the Fairfax Town Council unanimously passed an urgency ordinance banning the installation of Pacific Gas & Electric Company's wireless SmartMeters in our town. 
In recognition of the growing dissatisfaction with the program, the Marin Board of Supervisors unanimously passed its own moratorium on Jan. 4. 
Fairfax and Marin County join Santa Cruz County; Watsonville, California; Hawaii; Victoria, Australia; Ontario, Canada; Boulder, Colo.; and other jurisdictions taking a more critical look at this technology. 
While PG&E and other industry proponents have generated a massive public relations campaign to convince consumers of the green virtues of Smart-Meters, the program's benefits are largely conjectural. 
Construction and operation of the multibillion dollar system will itself require a great deal of energy. Those same billions could have instead constructed thousands of rooftop solar installations which would generate energy and jobs. 
The claimed energy savings are based on the assumption that consumers will reduce energy consumption if they are able to monitor usage and if they are forced to pay higher rates for power used during peak hours. 
But SmartMeters do not provide real-time data that can be used to adjust ongoing consumption. And many thousands of ratepayers, from seniors to stay-at-home moms, cannot avoid peak time rates. 
They will simply face higher bills. Hence it's fair to say that the one thing that the Smart-Meter program will make greener are the pockets of utilities and their shareholders. 
More troubling is the manner in which SmartMeters have been foisted upon our communities. 
In spite of the potential adverse health impacts of the system's pervasive electromagnetic field, the California Public Utilities Commission approved it without an environmental impact report. 
PG&E did not consult with local governments when installing individual SmartMeters and have ignored local ordinances in constructing the network of high-powered antennae, which receive and retransmit the signals pulsed by them. 
PG&E's stealth installation violates longstanding laws which require utilities to cooperate with local agencies and negates the ability of residents to have any input in a decision that many believe pose risks to their health and property rights. 
There is a growing consensus that the SmartMeter program will erode privacy rights. 
The ebb and flow of gas and electrical power reveals a great deal about the private details of our daily lives. The SmartMeter program will generate an unprecedented database of confidential information vulnerable to hacking and misuse. 
There are also questions about whether PG&E is committed to safeguarding privacy. 
After PG&E participated in a series of public meetings in Fairfax, it was discovered that it had engaged in a systematic effort to spy on citizen's groups by infiltrating e-mail exchanges under false pretenses. 
SmartMeter proponents boast about the system's technological prowess but have failed to consider whether it fits within the architecture of our democracy. 
Democracy depends upon the informed consent of the governed, and the SmartMeter program has subordinated the will of the people to a tyranny of technology. The members of the CPUC are appointees of the governor, not elected officials. 
By ignoring local ordinances, the unelected CPUC is effectively repealing rules and regulations that have been democratically legislated. 
The scale of California's economy and the diversity of its communities require an energy policy that balances technical performance with democratic accountability. 
Accountability can only be assured if consumers demand the choice to opt out of the wireless SmartMeter program and are given a meaningful voice in the creation of a truly sustainable energy system. 
The planet and our democracy will be the better for it. 
Lawrence Bragman, a local attorney, is a member of the Fairfax Town Council.
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