Hair loss, insomnia, birth defects, dead pets and terrorist attacks.
These are some of many concerns Nevadans have had about NV Energy’s new electronic “smart meters,” which transmit power-usage data from a home or business directly to the utility.
The fears are largely unproven, but there is at least one confirmed side effect of not having a smart meter: It will thin your wallet.
The Public Utilities Commission of Nevada on Tuesday approved NV Energy's plans to charge Southern Nevada customers an estimated $98.75 as a one-time fee and, over a four-year trial period, $8.14 per month if they want an alternative meter that can only be read on-site.
Northern Nevada electric customers who shun smart meters would pay an estimated $107.66 upfront and $8.04 per month during the trial period.
The commission approved the measure 2-1.
Commissioner Rebecca Wagner dissented, saying there wasn’t enough information on the reasons for discarding the old analog meters.
Before the vote, Chairman Alaina Burtenshaw said the analog issue also troubled her, and she pointed out that interested parties can seek more hearings.
During nearly three hours of overwhelmingly critical public comments Tuesday, people in Las Vegas and Carson City told the commission they want to keep analog meters, alleging smart meters pose serious health risks.
They also said they should not have to pay to bypass a system they didn’t want in the first place.
“Please, do the right thing for once,” Biruta Nelson, a 70-year-old Summerlin resident, told the commission before the vote.
Las Vegas-based NV Energy, which serves about 90 percent of Nevada’s population, plans to replace all 1.35 million of its analog meters with digital ones. Some 1.22 million smart meters have been installed statewide, including roughly 849,000 in Southern Nevada, the company says.
If these and other customers do not want a smart meter, NV Energy would install a digital one that cannot send out data.
NV Energy officials have said in regulatory filings that the opt-out charges reflect the costs — including labor, supplies and customer support — of providing the “non-standard” option. Some 9,000 customers statewide do not want smart meters, according to the utility.
It will cost about $301 million to replace the analog meters, with almost $140 million of that tab covered by a U.S. Department of Energy grant program.
Utilities across the country began replacing old-style electricity meters about seven years ago as part of an effort to better manage the demand on strained power grids. Supporters say the new meters’ data feeds can help prevent grid overloads and cut utility companies’ operating costs, as there would be fewer technicians driving around reading meters in person.
The Federal Communications Commission has rated smart meters as safe, saying they are considered unlikely to cause bodily tissue heating or electric shock. But critics have cited an Energy Department report that said many companies had not done enough to protect smart meters from hackers.
Additionally, a branch of the World Health Organization last year called radio-frequency radiation from cellphones, utility meters and other devices a “possible carcinogen.”
In Nevada, residents have voiced a range of health, privacy and quality concerns.
They alleged smart meters can cause fertility problems, DNA damage and brain-wave alteration, saying people in other states have complained of migraines, depression, anxiety, uncontrollable sweating, heart palpitations and mental confusion, according to a March report from the Public Utilities Commission.
What’s more, they alleged smart meters can monitor a person’s behaviors and activities, and that terrorists could hack in and shut off the power to a large region.
In the report, PUC staff did not say whether the health concerns were valid. But NV Energy dismissed those fears, saying partly that anecdotal health reports and complaints “are notoriously unreliable for establishing cause-and-effect relationships.”
The commission said NV Energy has taken “all reasonable measures” to protect customers from privacy and security breaches, but “no system is totally safe.”
Software must be continually upgraded to prevent hackers from installing viruses or obtaining personal data, though NV Energy has addressed these concerns, the commission says.
Nevadans have also complained that smart meters may not be as accurate as analog and would actually increase their power bills. By early March, there were 60 high-bill complaints among the nearly 600,000 smart meters installed at that point. The purportedly troubled meters were all tested and “proven to be accurate,” the commission has said.