A scientific study released Tuesday lends some "pretty serious science" to the debate over the safety of PG&E's SmartMeters but does not fully resolve the issue, Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said.
Huffman, one of two state lawmakers who requested the study last year, said he "had no illusions" that a study by the California Council on Science and Technology would settle the controversy over the wireless transmission of electric and gas meter data.
The 49-page study found that SmartMeters emit a wave frequency "that is a very small fraction of the exposure level established as safe" by federal guidelines regarding thermal effects, or heating of tissues, from the meters' emissions.
But the eight-member study team, headed by Humboldt State University President Rollin Richmond, said it could not determine if there were non-thermal human health impacts related to the radio frequency emissions and called for more research on that point.
Huffman, who is co-chairman of the Legislative Environmental Caucus, said there was "nothing more to debate" on thermal harm from SmartMeters and no evidence yet of any other harm.
"The science right now establishes that they are safe," Huffman said.
But he still is pushing for approval of his bill, AB 37, introduced last week directing the state Public Utilities Commission to provide alternatives for people who do not want a SmartMeter installed at their home or business.
"I think there's an easy solution at this point, and that's give them a choice," he said.
Paul Moreno, a PG&E spokesman, said the company is reviewing the report, which he said gives a "credible measure of assurance" that SmartMeters pose no serious threat of harm from thermal effects.
Deployment of the meters is continuing in Sonoma County, he said. In the Santa Rosa area, about 67,000 out of 90,000 electric meters and 56,000 out of 75,000 natural gas meters have been upgraded to digital SmartMeters at homes and businesses.
SmartMeters operate at one-70th of the radio frequency exposure limit set by the Federal Communications Commission, Moreno said.
PG&E's SmartMeter program was berated at a tea party gathering last week in Cotati, and demonstrators closed down a company service and payment center in Santa Rosa last month after blocking the entrance.
Critics say the radio frequencies from smart meters, as well as emissions from laptops, cell phones, TVs and other devices, can cause health problems ranging from chronic fatigue, headaches and insomnia, to heart ailments and cancer.
The World Health Organization, American Cancer Society and other major health organizations have found no definitive links between radio frequencies and ill health.
Huffman said he considers smart meters a key to development of a "smart grid" that maximizes energy efficiency, and that "hard-wired" meters are a potential alternative to the wireless variety.
Such a device would transmit data over telephone or power lines instead of using radio signals, he said.
PG&E is in the "preliminary stage" of evaluating options that would afford customers the benefits of SmartMeters, Moreno said.
The science report is available online at www.ccst.us and public comments will be accepted at the website through Jan. 31. The science council is a non-profit organization established by the California Legislature in 1998.