PG&E's plan to install wireless meters on area homes has some Sebastopol residents calling for city leaders to reject the plan because they fear the meters could impact their health.
Called SmartMeter, the plan calls for the utility company to bring automated meters to Sonoma County customers, with plans to begin placing them on residences this month in Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park and Petaluma.
But dozens of Sebastopol residents complained to city councilmembers this week claiming that radiation from the meters' electromagnetic fields could cause a range of negative health issues, including cancer.
?"I want the city of Sebastopol to be the first city to say &‘hell no,'" to the utility meter program, said Madison Baker of Sebastopol.
PG&E officials, who have also been underfire for increases in energy bills after the meters are installed, reject the notion that the meters are unsafe.
?"We don't believe there are health hazards associated with the Smart meters," said Katie Romans, PG&E spokeswoman who attended Tuesday's hearing. "But we do want to address the community's concerns fully. We'll be taking those concerns back to our experts," she said with a plan to return to Sebastopol to further address the issue.
Andrew Tang, also of PG&E, said studies conducted in 2005 and 2008 show the rates of radiation from the electromagnetic fields fall within standards and levels set by the FCC and the new meters will be a benefit to both the utility and its customers.
PG&E says the new wireless grid promises to pinpoint power failures faster, would eliminate meter readers on private property and give consumers access to data in near real time.
With the new meters, customers will be able to go online and see how much energy they're using, giving them options on how to save money.
"Who is this good for?" asked Elizabeth Fuller, a Sebastopol resident not satisfied by the explanations offered by PG&E.
"Will I send tweets to my refrigerator?" She scoffed at the notion of savings, wondering if the suggested benefits would appear as a suggestion to cook dinner at 3 a.m.
Sebastopol resident Nancy Hubert said the issue "is a matter of choice. ... I think this is pretty outrageous actually."
The meters have already been installed of some areas of California and have generated a class action lawsuit in Bakersfield over higher-than-expected bills.
PG&E staff said any concerns should be directed to the company but also to the California Public Utilities Commission, which oversees the utility company's actions and has jurisdiction on the issue.
Mayor Sarah Gurney said options for the council at its Feb. 16 meeting include scheduling a town hall meeting, getting state legislators involved and possibly a lobbying effort to the utilities commission should the council see the need for future action.
Concerns in Sebastopol over electromagnetic fields are not new.
?An effort to get free wireless Internet service in the city in 2008 first was approved, then failed when the council rescinded its approval after hearing from many critics of Wi-Fi. The critics believed the radiation emitted by wireless equipment, cell phones and similar devices could cause adverse health effects.
That decision brought international attention to the town and when local high school students took up the issue in favor of the service, the council said it would bring the issue back for reconsideration.