Residents argue merits of smart meters

Conventional electric meter mounted outside a homeDebate rages on whether Oregon residents' fears that smart meters, used by utilities to remotely gauge water and electric usage, transmit harmful radio waves.

Smart-meter opponents contend that electromagnetic radiation can cause cancer, and though two new studies may show such radiation is safe in cellphones, foes claim officials aren't revealing the risks of smart meters.

Eugene utility commissioners voted Feb. 6 to adopt an "opt out" policy where customers must specifically ask that their home or business meter not use emerging smart-meter technology to transmit usage data. The vote reverses an opt-in policy adopted in 2013, which has since been deemed costly and "incredibly inefficient."

A mean dog snarls at an approaching meter readerProponents of smart meters tout the benefits, such as faster power restoration after an outage and more-accurate utility bills. Smart meters also oust the need for meter-readers to enter private property to visually read meters, sometimes encountering hazards like vicious pets.

Opponents say there's insufficient research on the health effects of radio waves emitted by smartphones, and that meter readers are losing their jobs. But that's good, goes the counter-argument, because we cut carbon emissions when meter-readers stop driving all around town.

Accurate invoices are in bill-payers' best interest, if you ask around the Burien community. My colleague Jessica sees lots of angst voiced on NextDoor by her neighbors whose utility bills are estimated, rather than actually read on-site. When bills are underestimated, those homeowners later get slapped with huge make-up invoices. Better to get accurate bills via smart-meter data, they say.

A man with a clipboard reads the meter outside a homeAn opinion piece in the Medford Mail Tribune notes that cellphones and WiFi routers use the same technology as smart readers, but they operate indoors and produce radiation that's stronger than smart readers, as do baby monitors and microwaves. Cell signals are nearly everywhere.

Eugene has spent millions to date on its smart-reader project and plans to install 150,000 meters over the next eight years.

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