Radiation fears prompt ratepayer’s lawsuit against SMUD

American Cancer Society downplays risks of radiofrequencies from smart meters

A long-running dispute involving smart-meter technology and radiation fears is shifting into legal territory.

Ratepayer Mark Graham filed a lawsuit last month against the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. Contending that smart meters pose grave health risks and exist primarily to gather marketing data, he wants his money back for opting out of the program—$127 to have the meter uninstalled and $14 for monthly readings of his analog meter.

Graham claims the charges are illegal since he never authorized a smart meter. “I just don’t like the hypocrisy,” he said. “The only real purpose for SMUD is to provide electricity and do it in a safe manner.”

SMUD started installing smart meters in 2009 as a way to cut costs and greenhouse-gas emissions. The meters provide a more precise reading of ratepayers’ energy-using habits, allowing SMUD to generate only the energy it needs for its 600,000 ratepayers.

SMUD completed the installations in 2012. Almost four years later, a small but vocal contingent of ratepayers oppose the meters for privacy and health reasons. It’s a charged debate, with ratepayers like Graham claiming a link between radiofrequency waves and health problems. “It’s the health of a lot of people, which they are knowingly harming,” he said.

According to the American Cancer Society, radiofrequencies emitted from smart meters give off low-energy radiation on par with cellphones or Wi-Fi routers. But the chances of exposure are considerably less since smart meters are located outside of residences. Because of that, ACS states on its website, “it is very unlikely that living in a house with a smart meter increases risk of cancer.”

The World Health Organization is reportedly conducting a formal assessment of the cancer risks. As for whether smart meters cause other health problems, that question hasn’t been answered, ACS says.

For those who worry about the potential health effects, SMUD allows ratepayers to opt out of having smart meters. But Graham says that option isn’t well-publicized and should be free. He filed his lawsuit January 8 in Sacramento Superior Court and expects to represent himself.

Eric Windheim announced the lawsuit halfway through the February 4 meeting of SMUD’s board of directors. Founder of Sacramento Smart Meter Awareness, which Graham also belongs to, Windheim also runs a business that looks for “dirty electricity” in homes and offices. “We have a present for you here,” he told board members last week. “It’s a little bit after Christmas. This is a lawsuit.”

SMUD general counsel Laura Lewis told SN&R that the lawsuit’s without merit and likely to be dismissed. She said SMUD’s position is that “smart meters pose no credible threat to the health and safety of our customers.”