Burbank Smart Meter “Opt Out”

What do you do when your elected officials and public utility fail to take the high road and instead craft and approve one of the worst opt out programs in the state?

Have you received a postcard, notice or newsletter about BWP’s one-time only smart meter opt out policy, fees and May 20th deadline?  Are you unsure what to do or how to respond?

Some BWP customers have told us that they were not informed by the City of BWP about the opt-out deadline, or that the “delay installation” program (that allowed you to keep your analog or existing meter on your home for several months) was available.   The BWP Smart Meter website also fails to mention how to opt out.

Burbank residents have repeatedly expressed to City Council their opposition to the mandatory “smart” utility meters and their costly wireless infrastructure that Burbank Water & Power (BWP) has been installing on our homes, businesses, and neighborhoods.  Just read  Fronnie Lewis’ post about this on her Media City Groove blog.  Also read Burbank resident Shane Gregory’s report about City Council’s March 6, 2012 meeting in the Comments section to one of our Burbank Action posts.

Reasons for concern include: higher monthly bills, meter accuracy, invasion of privacy, interference with routers, appliances, and home security systems,  public safety hazards (smart meters exploding or causing fires) and damage to home appliances, government over-reach (Big Brother” having access to your personal energy usage data), hackers knowing if you are home or not, remote shut-off of your power by the utility (or hackers), disabling health problems and health effects (ear ringing, headaches, heart palpitations, insomnia, muscle aches, pacemaker interference), continuous Wi-Fi exposure on your home, property and neighborhoods, detrimental effects on real estate values for property owners and apartment landlords, violations of civil rights and civil liberties, and laying off of meter readers.

With Smart Meters, our utilities will also be encouraging consumers to purchase or accept the Home Area Networks (HAN) or home power monitor devices that show you how much your appliances are using energy and when.  All of that data is communicated wirelessly from your appliances to the Smart Meter and onto to the utility, exposing 24/7 household routines and consumption patterns to your utility, and thus raising additional concerns and questions about how your data is being collected, stored and analyzed — who and where will it be used, stored, and shared, and what guarantees will be given to you regarding privacy and security of your data?

By signing onto such programs, have you handed over your implied consent?  Have you been fully informed about the potential dangers?

Hackers can get into smart meters and the Smart Grid, as Scientific American reports, and recent reports about smart meter privacy and security flaws reveal that an outside party can even tell what TV program you’re watching.  Hackers and infiltrators could also threaten the Smart Grid by remotely introducing worms and viruses.  Vulnerabilities and potential cyber terrorist attacks make the Smart Grid a “dumb” grid, according to former CIA Director James Woolsey.

With so much at stake and wrong about smart meters, consumers and residents across the country are wondering who is profiting  from smart meters, and if crony capitalism has taken over — with Smart Grid investments estimated at $2 trillion, it’s looking like public officials are favoring big business agendas over protecting the public interest.

That’s why Burbank residents asked BWP and Burbank City Council for the right to keep or restore our analog utility meters,  because the electromechanical analog meters don’t present those problems listed above.

We also oppose up-front and monthly opt-out fees.  Why should we have to pay for something that we never opted into, and when we’ve already paid for the cost of the smart meter program through our bills and taxes?

“Charging fees for opting out is pretty outrageous,” said Charles Acquard, executive director of National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates, which represents 44 consumer groups in 40 states.

Here in California, on February 1, 2012, the state’s California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) began the process of approving the analog option for millions of Californians, for any reason.

So wouldn’t you think that our Burbank officials would offer the equitable analog option to its residents?

Instead, on March 20, 2012, Burbank City Council Council Members Dave Golonski, Gary Bric, and Emily Gabel Luddy voted “Yes” to approve a BWP Smart Meter Opt Out policy for Burbank residents of the Smart Meter with the RF-unit removed.*

But a smart meter is still a smart meter, so this “option” is a lie.

In addition, Council Members Golonski, Bric and Gabel-Luddy approved adding a prohibitory and discriminatory one-time only opt-out constraint, as well as a 60-day deadline — meaning you only have until May 20th to “opt” out.

As a result, what these three City Council members and BWP have given Burbank residents and ratepayers a discriminatory, prohibitory, inequitable and unfair Smart Meter Opt-Out program that is harmful to our security, privacy, and health, and violates our civil rights and civil liberties.

In essence, they are forcing us to accept one of the worst Smart Meter Opt-Out programs in the state, and nation.**

BWP says it is not bound by CPUC regulations concerning the opt out, because BWP is a public utility and not a private investor-owned utility like SCE, SDG&E & PG&E (which are regulated by the CPUC).

However, BWP’s $60 million smart grid program has been partially funded with a $20 million federal stimulus grant (our tax dollars!). However, federal legislation about smart meters (see page 370-371 of the U.S. Policy Energy Act of 2005) clearly states (we have bold-faced certain words below for you to take note):

“Not later than 18 months after the date of enactment of this paragraph, each electric utility shall offer each of its customer classes, and provide individual customers upon customer request, a time-based rate schedule under which the rate charged by the electric utility varies during different time periods and reflects the variance, if any, in the utility’s costs of generating and purchasing electricity at the wholesale level. The time-based rate schedule shall enable the electric consumer to manage energy use and cost through advanced metering and communications technology…

‘‘(C) Each electric utility subject to subparagraph (A) shall provide each customer requesting a time-based rate with a time-based meter capable of enabling the utility and customer to offer and receive such rate, respectively.”

It is very clear here that this federal law/legislation requires utilities to make time-of-use rates optional or available, “upon customer request,” and thus smart meters should not be mandatory or forced upon us by local governments and or utilities. 

So why has Burbank made them mandatory for its customers?

In contrast, at the end of March, 2012, Ventura County Supervisors joined a growing list of more than 50-plus local governments in California that have taken action to oppose smart meters, ban them from their communities and/or support the right to a free analog option.

Meanwhile, civil liberties groups like the ACLU of Vermont and ACLU of Hawaii have issued position statements against mandatory smart meters, and have advocated for the right to opt out without any one-time-only deadlines.

We expect better from Burbank elected officials and our own public utility, in which the customers are supposed to be the owners. So, if we are the owners, why is BWP forcing smart meters on us without obtaining our consent or approval?   Even the Federal government and our State legislature does not mandate smart meters on our homes.

Problems with Burbank’s Smart Meter “Opt-Out” Policy

The Smart Meter option that our City Council approved has major problems because:

1.  The Smart Meter Opt Out is mostly smoke and mirrors: The approved option is still a Smart Meter, but with the RF component removed from the meter.  Thus, this option does not address the privacy concerns of individuals who do not want BWP to collect interval data (how much energy you use and when).

Burbank resident Jerry Day has equated this to an unwarranted surveillance device.  Interval data collection reveals when you are home, and could also lead to BWP imposing mandatory time-of-use or TOU rates (charging you more for using energy during certain times of the day).

TOU rates unfairly penalize those who cannot leave their homes during most of the day (which could be from 2p until 7pm) to reduce usage — these include stay-at-home parents and caretakers, those who work in their home office, retirees and seniors, disabled, unemployed and those on medical home support systems.  As a result, consumer groups like NASUCA, AARP and Public Citizen have said that smart meters and time of use rates should be voluntary.  There are less costly ways to reduce energy usage than via mandatory smart meters.

2.  Burbank’s Smart Meter Option makes no accommodation for condo and apartment residents who live or sleep right next to banks of meters, those who work in business spaces right next to smart meters, and those who are sensitive to the health effects from Smart Meters, and are getting sick from them.  According to a peer-reviewed study by the California Department of Public Health for the CPUC, around 3% of the population is estimated to be electrohypersensitive.  Smart Meters, including those with the RF-removed or turned off/disabled, also have Switching Mode Power Supplies that create dirty electricity throughout the home.  This dirty electricity creates health problems, according to those who have had these types of meters installed on their homes.

3.  The Smart Meter Option involves fees.  Charging to opt out of something that we never opted into or approved, and in order to secure our health and privacy, is extortion.  BWP  will charge $75 up-front, and $10 per month for opting out.  Lifeline customers would pay $37.50 up front and $5 per month.

4.  Burbank’s Smart Meter Option is out of sync with the rest of California.   Millions of Californians all around Burbank will be having the analog option while Burbank has stuck its head in the sand.  The state Calif. Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued its approved Decision on smart meter options for PG&E customers on February 1, 2012, and for  SCE and SDG&E customers on April 19, 2012.  These decisions do and will afford millions of Californians throughout the state the right to keep or restore their analog meter — for any reason, at a cost of $75 up-front and $10 per month.  Lower-income customers who qualify would pay $10 up-front and $5 per month.

5.  Burbank’s Smart Meter Option’s one-time only and 60-day deadline constraints violate our civil liberties and civil rights because they are discriminatory and restrict our freedom of movement or mobility.  If you opt out, after the deadline passes, you are “stuck” in your home and unable to move into another Burbank home and have the right to opt out.  These constraints then basically send the message that if you want the analog meter that other Californians are getting, you should move out of town.

(In addition, many BWP customers have told us that BWP never informed them about the opt-out deadline (or the delay installation program).  If BWP customers did not know about the deadline, then how could they apply for it?)

6.  Another problem is that the BWP Board Members who actually supported no smart meter options for Burbank residents — even though they are supposed to represent the “owners” of our public utility,  i.e., you and me — are appointed instead of elected. 

What Can You Do?

Given what Burbank City Council and BWP have given us as an “option,” here are the various actions you could take, especially in light of what is happening in other areas of California and across the nation.

Disclaimer: This website and its posts are not legal advice.   We recommend you research this issue, and your options, to decide what is the best course of action for you to take.

1.  Call up BWP Customer Service, and sign-up before May 20th for their Opt Out Smart Meter with the RF removed: Those who may want this option include those who do NOT want to allow BWP to remotely turn off and on your electricity. 

BWP Customer Service phone number: 818-238-3700, Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.; document who you spoke with and when you called.

Or you can visit BWP at 164 West Magnolia Blvd., Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

WARNING: This option is still a Smart Meter and will record interval energy usage data, and comes with the list of potential problems stated above, including potential  health problems due to the smart meter’s Switching Mode Power Supply (SMPS) creating dirty electricity throughout the wiring in your home.

Tips if you are going to choose the opt-out  — read the EMF Safety Network’s post about PG&E May 1st Opt Out deadline and fees.  EMF Safety Network suggests writing to the utility and noting on checks a note or statement that you are making such payments under duress or protest.  Read these and other suggestions here: http://emfsafetynetwork.org/?p=7444

Home Health Readings: Consider contacting and independent, outside (i.e., not BWP) electrical engineer or EMF consultant who is qualified in taking “baseline” EMF and dirty electricity readings around your home, smart meter and home wiring before the smart meter, with or without an RF unit, is installed on your home.  Take the same readings after the smart meter is installed to contrast and compare.

Human Health Readings: An increasing number of physicians, including Dr. David O. Carpenter of the University of Albany (NY), as well those from the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, and California public health officials, are advising the public, government officials and policy makers about smart meter health hazards and concerns.   You may want to consider baseline health tests (blood tests to monitor hormones and neurotransmitters) by your licensed physician before a smart meter is installed on your home.  Then if you experience any health problems after they are installed, you may want to do a second round of tests to contrast and compare.  Research or read up on possible tests you could consider, including going over with your physician the “Guidelines of the Austrian Medical Association for the diagnosis and treatment of EMF-related health problems and illnesses (EMF Syndrome),” adopted March 3, 2012 by the Austrian Medical Association.

If you are also experiencing any health problems with your current smart meter (or the opt-out smart meter) on your home or business, or have experienced any form of disability, injury, harm, invasion or abuse from the smart meter or from your utility company, please submit a Declaration of your injury or abuse with the EMF Safety Network, which is developing a possible lawsuit.

2.  Hold onto your analog meter.  For example, residents in Naperville, IL, oppose their City Council’s opt out policy and continue to protest against it and have organized an effort to keep their analog meters.

Burbank resident Jerry Day has given City Council and BWP Legal Notice that he intends to take them to court, if they do not answer his questions that he gave them, and attempt to replace his analog meter with a smart meter.  Read his Notices that he sent them, along with his follow-up letters.

Mr. Day and other smart meter opponents across the country also recommend you send your utilities via certified mail your Letters of No Consent.

You may  have read how residents in some communities are locking up their analog meters.  However, some utility companies are scaling fences and cutting locks in order to install the smart meters.

Other residents are swapping out their smart meters for analogs.  (They may  face retaliation from the utility company, including getting their power shut off– although a group of PG&E customers were able to get their power restored after taking their complaints to their Santa Cruz County Supervisors, and attracting a lot of media attention to their action and cause.)

3.  If you can’t afford to opt-out or don’t want a Smart Meter due to principle:  Many people who don’t want smart meters cannot afford the prohibitory opt-out fees, and the utilities know thisIf you cannot opt out due to the high fees or due to principle, educate yourself on what potential problems smart meters could create for your home, family, and pocketbook, and also make sure to read what Stop Smart Meters has written for you to research and consider: http://stopsmartmeters.org/2012/04/10/we-are-not-opting-out-we-are-refusing-to-opt-in-theres-a-difference/

4.  Research filing a lawsuit.  An Orange County, CA, resident filed a Small Claims complaint against SCE for installing a Smart Meter without his consent, and won a judgement requiring SCE to restore the analog meter on the resident’s home.  Residents n communities in our state and across the nation are filing lawsuits.  See our “Lawsuits” page to read about these developments.

As mentioned above: If you are also experiencing any health problems with your current smart meter (or the opt-out smart meter) on your home or business, or have experienced any form of disability, injury, harm, invasion or abuse from the smart meter or from your utility company, please submit a Declaration of your injury or abuse with the EMF Safety Network, which is developing a possible lawsuit.

5.  Visit these websites to learn more:

EMFSafetyNetwork.org

TURN.org

StopSmartMeters.org

SmartMeterHealthAlert.org

6.  Watch these videos.

Burbank resident Jerry Day: The Brave New World of Smart Meters.

It’s a YouTube hit with more than 1 million viewers.

CBS 5 reports on higher monthly bills with smart meters.

Jerry Day: “We Are EMR Guinea Pigs”

Take The Power Back film trailer on privacy and security concerns.

Get Smart About Smart Meters – Santa Barbara Town Hall Forum

Jerry Day: Replacing Your Smart Meter

7.   Share what you learn with your family, friends, work associates, neighbors,and community

===============================

* Burbank City Council Vote 3-2 on March 20, 2012: Council MembersDr. David Gordon did not approve the opt-out; he had at the earlier March 6th City Council meeting asked his fellow Council Members to support a no-cost analog at any time option.  Mayor Jess Talamantes, did approve of the Smart Meter with the RF-removed as an option at the March 6th City Council meeting, but at the March 20th meeting, he said he did not approve of the 60-day deadline, and so the Mayor voted No that evening.   Thus, the three Council Members who approved the Smart Meters with the RF-removed opt-out policy with the one-time only 60-day deadline on March 20th were Dave Golonski, Gary Bric and Emily Gabel-Luddy.

** The other two California “Opt-Out” programs that win the Hall of Shame awards are Glendale Water & Power for offering the Smart Meter with the RF-Turned-Off and charging prohibitory fees of $39 per month which is in stark contrast to what they had told  Glendale residents for the past year (that GWP was going to follow the lead of the CPUC’s decision).  As  result, residents there feel lied to and that betrayal has shattered their trust in their public utility.  Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) decided to offer the Smart Meter with the RF-turned off and is also charging prohibitory fees.  SMUD decision-makers buried themselves deeper into the dirt by publicly making disparaging remarks about those who oppose smart meters, which was caught on a damning audiotape recording of their decisive meeting.

———————————————————————

Food for thought:

CPUC section 453  (a) No public utility shall, as to rates, charges, service, facilities, or in any other respect, make or grant any preference or advantage to any corporation or person or subject any corporation or person to any prejudice or disadvantage.

(b) No public utility shall prejudice, disadvantage, or require different rates or deposit amounts from a person because of ancestry, medical condition, marital status or change in marital status, occupation, or any characteristic listed or defined in Section 11135 of the Government Code. A person who has exhausted all administrative remedies with the commission may institute a suit for injunctive relief and reasonable attorney’s fees in cases of an alleged violation of this subdivision. If successful in litigation, the prevailing party shall be awarded attorney’s fees.

(c) No public utility shall establish or maintain any unreasonable difference as to rates, charges, service, facilities, or in any other respect, either as between localities or as between classes of service.

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9 Responses to “Burbank Smart Meter “Opt Out””

  1. Richard April 20, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

    I don’t understand your number 1 issue under ‘Problems with Burbank’s Smart Meter “Opt-Out” Policy’. You state that there is no RF component in the ‘opt-out’ meter but state there is still a privacy issue becasue interval data is still gathered. HOW does BWP get this usage data if there is no RF? Will the meter reader collect it?

  2. Richard April 20, 2012 at 4:34 pm #

    I just called BWP and you article is correct. If you pay for and receive the ‘opt-out’ BWP meter, the meter will still collect the 15-min interval data. Once a month, the BWP meter reader will plug a device into the meter and download the last month’s worth of data.

  3. Cher May 6, 2012 at 7:31 pm #

    Well this just sucks. As a Burbank resident I receive monthly notices comparing my energy usage vs. my neighbors, and how this house uses too much energy and how we can cut down. I get so mad. Then they want me to give them info on my house usage, 24/7? pool? etc. Really? I’m not sharing my personal info. As long as I can pay my bill each month, it’s NO ONE’S business what goes on in my home. Hey Burbank, save your printing, postage and time wasted on those comparisons, and give me back the meter reader who has a job because your not sending out propaganda.

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