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The California Public Utilities Commission is being urged to put a moratorium on Pacific Gas & Electric’s planned July deployment of smart meters in Fairfax, located just north of San Francisco. The Fairfax town council wants an independent third party to review the smart meter program and also wants the PUC to make participation in the smart meter roll out voluntary, so residents can opt out. Fairfax is located north of San Francisco.

Beyond the questions of accuracy, the Fairfax city fathers have expressed concern over the potential health risks posed by the smart meters’ radio transmissions. Mayor Lew Tremaine explains, “The concern is that these things equate to cell phone towers times 10, and that the ambient electromagnetic and radio wave fields that will come as a result of having these things at every house running constantly is an unforeseen health risk. For people who are sensitive to electromagnetic radiation, it’s going to be a living nightmare.”

The Contra Costa Times reported that PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno denied the meters posed a health risk, saying the emitted radio signals are well within limits established by the Federal Communications Commission. “The meters emit a signal once every four hours for a fraction of a second, and at very low power,” Moreno said. “These levels are far below what you would find in many common household appliances.”

Fairfax and PG&E have a contentious history. The town strongly supports the Marin Clean Energy plan, which competes with PG&E for customers. So residents were already suspect about the smart meter deployment and have been vocal about the perceived increase in their electricity bills.

Moreno countered by saying the increases actually reflect the accuracy of the meters. “In the vast majority of situations, the higher bills can be attributed to increased usage due to seasonal changes, as well as rates being higher than in the previous summer.”

The last issue brought up by the Fairfax mayor was the negative impact on employment the smart meters presented. However, PG&E has gone on record saying it’s providing job training for its meter readers, of which less than a third are full time employees.

Moreno reported that about 80 percent of meter readers have transitioned to other jobs within the company. “Meter reading has historically been a stepping stone toward other employment at PG&E, although some people do make an entire career out of reading. We’ve had very good success at helping meter readers interested in staying with the company transition to other jobs.”

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