A Cell Phone EMF Ordinance in San Francisco - Bad Precedent for the Smart Grid

A Cell Phone EMF Ordinance in San Francisco - Bad Precedent for the Smart Grid

June 16, 2010 17:43
by J. Wylie Donald
In a setback for cell phone providers, San Francisco is likely to become the first city in America to require cell phone companies to provide information on how much RF (radiofrequency) radiation their devices emit.  Yesterday San Francisco's board of supervisors voted 10-1 to approve this requirement and it is expected that the mayor will sign the ordinance into law.  Opponents of the measure point out that all cell phones emit at levels far below federal standards.  The new law is likely to create expectations in consumers that cell phones with lower emissions are safer, when there is no evidence this is the case.
What does this have to do with climate change and renewable energy?  We were hoping you would ask.  California is also the site of challenges to the Smart Grid1 based on assertions of unacceptable risks arising from electromagnetic radiation emitted by the devices comprising the Smart Grid's Home Area Network.  Notwithstanding the ubiquity of electromagnetic radiation emitted by cell phones and wireless networks, a small group of determined opponents, the EMF Safety Network, has asked the California Public Utilities Commission to modify its final opinions on the applications of Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) "for authority to deploy an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) project known now as the Smart Meter program," and to change the technology used in the Smart Meter program (Click here).
The Network is no shrinking violet.  It successfully challenged a wireless provider that wished to provide free wireless service to downtown Sebastopol, California.  Today, although you can get wireless at Starbucks in Sebastopol, do not look for it in Ives Park. 
Against PG&E the Network argues that the Commission "did not adequately address health, environmental, and safety impacts related to widespread deployment of RF Smart Meter technologies, either in the scoping memo or the decision in either proceeding."  According to the Network "PG&E’s Smart Meter RF emissions data is inconsistent, contradictory and at odds with other RF expert findings. An independent RF emissions study, reflecting actual operating conditions for the Smart Meter program, is critical for interested parties to evaluate evidence of health, environmental, and safety impacts, including but not limited to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) compliance."
We don't want to give too much, or even any, credit to the Network's arguments.  A paper they like to cite, the BioInitiative Report, has been reviewed by the EMF working group of the European Commission. (Click here) The group's words are plain: 
Ms Cindy Sage of Sage Associates (USA) is the author of the "Summary for the public" that is written in an alarmist and emotive language and whose arguments have no scientific support from well-conducted EMF research. She is also the author of five more chapters (with a total of 6 out of 17 chapters) and the co-author of the final key chapter on policy recommendations.

There is a lack of balance in the report; no mention is made in fact of reports that do not concur with authors’ statements and conclusions. The results and conclusions are very different from those of recent national and international reviews on this topic (see Annex 1 and 2).

The Network's other arguments are equally far out of the mainstream.  Nevertheless, PG&E has to deal with them.  And so will other utilities.  We have seen similar types of attacks before.  In our work dealing with concerns over radioactive isotopes in the baby teeth of children living around nuclear power plants, the same tired unsupported pseudo-scientific arguments were trotted out at public meetings in numerous jurisdictions.  As soon as one public health authority or nuclear regulator rejected the position, it would surface in the state next door as if it had never been knocked down. Nevertheless, the regulators did not back down and continued to close the door to the Tooth Fairy Project (as it called itself).
Utility regulators should do the same with these attacks on the Smart Grid.  The public health risk from climate change is immense.  The Smart Grid is one of the technologies central to reducing carbon emissions and efficiently utilizing numerous energy resources.  We adopt pseudo-science and alarmism at our peril.
1For those unfamiliar with the Smart Grid, briefly described, the Smart Grid applies digital processing and communications technology to the electricity distribution system, all the way to the end user.  Application of this technology permits, among other things, utilities to better manage demand (including that of individual households), connect small power sources such as solar cells and individual wind turbines to the grid, and respond to power grid failures.  In the end this should lead to increased efficiency and reliability of the grid and will save consumers money and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Climate Change

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