Ron Kaye: The Arrogance of Power

Why are utilities so intent on forcing smart meters on their customers?

In a world gone crazy, teetering on the brink of economic chaos, with thousands dying every day at the hands of rogue governments, wars being fought over precious natural resources and the young losing hope in the future, you have to wonder how smart meters became the No. 1 issue for so many.

Smart meters?

You know, the glass encased digital meters that have recently been installed outside your home or apartment in Burbank and Glendale and in much of California. These automated devices are supposed to help you manage your use of water and power to reduce your costs and conserve these precious resources to help make the planet greener.

Did you know those meters send out a continuous stream of radio signals to you and your utility — electro-magnetic radio frequency waves that can give you cancer and kill you? That they are just the power companies playing a dirty trick so that they can charge you a lot more money? That smart meters are a sinister invasion of our privacy, part of a “Big Brother” conspiracy that goes back decades to take control of your mind and the world?

Those kinds of concerns brought nearly 170 people out to the Glendale Moose Lodge for most of three hours Thursday night to hear a panel of experts who are highly critical of the multi-billion-dollar rollout of smart meters in the state and across the nation and to share their own fears, concerns and experiences.

Some of those people talked about how they got terrible headaches and other symptoms almost immediately after smart meters were installed, how they’ve been suffering pain so severe they’re sleeping in their cars.

Some have tried wrapping their heads in tin foil to deflect the electro-magnetic fields that inundate our bodies from every direction, from cell phones, from our own and our neighbors’ wireless routers, from microwaves, TVs, computers and from all the other electrical devices that surround us.

And now smart meters send out their signals every hour of every day to relay devices and cell towers to computers at utility offices.

Are these people kooks, the 1% who think darkly about just about everything, living in fear, victims of future shock? Or are the 99% of us just so uninformed and passive that we are allowing this to go on without even asking a single question?

I am clearly among the ignorant 99%, which was why I accepted the invitation to moderate the Smart Meter Forum when event organizer Kiku Lani Iwata of Burbank Action called me.

A serious, intelligent woman deeply concerned about the health of her small child, Iwata told me smart meters were the “last straw” that led her to become an activist.

Cindy Sage, an environmental land use consultant from Montecito, opened the program by outlining the “13 Fatal Flaws” with smart meters, focused on the health dangers from the constant inundation in our bodies of EMFs and how the incessant assaults of these radio frequencies have been labeled a “possible” cause of cancer by the World Health Organization — not a cause, not a probable cause, just possible, like coffee.

Mindy Spatt, communications director for San Francisco-based The Utility Reform Network, warned that smart meters are incredibly expensive — $70 million for Glendale alone — and are just a way of imposing much higher rates on consumers by charging a lot more during peak usage hours in the afternoons when air conditioners, lights and appliances are running full blast.

The flip side of that, utility officials argue, is that smart consumers will be able to see that it might cost $1 an hour to run the air conditioner at 3 p.m., even when it’s not that hot, and 25 cents to leave the big screen on when no one is watching.

Orlean Koehle of Santa Rosa, president of the conservative Eagle Forum of California, got the biggest applause, asserting that installing smart meters without your permission is illegal and arguing that they are being introduced as a way of invading our privacy, spying on our lives and modifying our behavior — in a word, an assault on our basic freedoms.

Even Sage and Spatt looked somewhat uncomfortable with how far she went, but many in the audience loved it.

Personally, I was fascinated. I suspect EMFs aren’t good for you, but are not as bad as the tobacco I smoked for 50 years, or all the poisons in our food supply and chemicals in our water.

What I do know is we all have a right to our beliefs. We have a right to be heard and respected and see our concerns taken seriously.

Listening to members of the audience comment at the end of the program, I came away convinced that there are legitimate questions to be answered and we need a much more robust — and honest — conversation about smart meters and just about everything else that people in authority are imposing on us.

“Arrogance of power,” bellowed the last audience member to take the microphone, that’s what this is about.

I think that’s true. It’s true for the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movement and the opponents of smart meters and digital billboards and developments that trash our neighborhoods.

It’s the heart of the stalemate in Washington, the gridlock in Sacramento and the corruption at L.A. City Hall. We need a whole different kind of conversation in this country, one that includes the 99 percent of us and not just the few with money, power and influence.

At future City Council meetings in Glendale and Burbank, and at the Glendale Water & Power forum next Thursday night at Glendale Community College, you can bet officials will get an earful from the people who attended this event.