Activists who want the California Public Utilities Commission to investigate health concerns raised about PG&E's SmartMeters received support this week from the commission's own consumer advocacy division.
If left unaddressed, such health concerns could pose "a very great risk that PG&E's SmartMeter deployment will turn out to be a $2.2 billion mistake that ratepayers can ill afford," the Division of Ratepayer Advocates said in written comments submitted this week.
Sandi Maurer, founder of the Sebastopol-based Electromagnetic Field Safety Network, cheered the division's stance, saying it bolsters the group's efforts to have state regulators formally take up their concerns.
"We're very grateful for the DRA's support," she said. "We're hopeful that the commission will give us the opportunity to be heard."
PG&E contends there are no health risks posed by the radio frequencies emitted by the high-tech gas and electric meters, which the utility hopes to install at every home and business it serves.
The World Health Organization, American Cancer Society and other major health organizations have found no definitive links between radio frequencies and ill health.
But activists have urged for more study, not just on SmartMeters, but on the cumulative effects of radio frequencies emitted by laptops, cell phones, TVs and other electronic devices. They also claim that current exposure guidelines set by the Federal Communications Commission are outdated.
An administrative law judge, acting on a request made by PG&E, tentatively denied the EMF Safety Network's request for state regulators to address the health concerns raised about SmartMeters.
The Division of Ratepayer Advocates, however, essentially argued that the judge's tentative decision was based on flimsy evidence about the safety of the devices provided solely by PG&E.
The FCC's jurisdiction over radio frequency levels does not preclude the PUC from "exercising its broad powers to protect public health and safety" and investigating concerns raised by anti-meter activists, the division stated.
If such concerns are ignored, more people could seek to opt-out of the SmartMeter program, which in turn could raise costs for the utility and undermine the entire effort to create a high-tech power grid, the division stated.
The division stopped short of taking a position on whether the meters actually pose a threat to health.
Jeff Smith, a spokesman for PG&E, said such concerns have already been "extensively" studied by "credible, independent experts like the FCC and WHO."
But he said the utility would not object if commissioners opt for another study.
"We would certainly be supportive and work with the commission on any direction they might take," Smith said.