Alamo Heights resident Marcia Weser voices concerns about CPS Energy's new smart meters. Photo by Katherine Nickas.
Alamo Heights resident Marcia Weser voices concerns about CPS Energy's new smart meters. Photo by Katherine Nickas.

Two months after CPS Energy presented plans to install smart meters in Alamo Heights, the City Council there heard from more than a dozen residents express concerns about health and safety risks.

Alamo Heights Mayor Louis Cooper, apparently anticipating the group’s fears, announced at the start of the meeting that the Council will send a letter to CPS Energy requesting a one year delay in smart meter installations while city officials evaluate citizen concerns.

The Alamo Heights residents in attendance voiced various concerns about the smart meters, fearing they might cause cancer, emit dangerous electromagnetic radiation, and cause fires. Such fears are not supported by any evidence or scientific data, and there is no indication the small group at Monday’s meeting represents a larger body of concerned citizens in the community.

“CPS Energy is using the bully pulpit to force us to accept something we don’t want,” said Susan Straus, adding that she has spent more than 300 hours conducting research on the meters since July when she learned they were coming to Alamo Heights. “CPS is letting me use their Smart Meter at my own risk.

“The grid is exposing people to cumulative radio frequency radiation, and also not complying with building codes,” she added. “CPS cannot provide a study saying the smart meter is safe.”

Frequencies are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission and have been deemed safe in dozens of medical studies, including a 2014 report by the Electric Power Research Institute commissioned by CPS Energy and a 2011 report by the California Council on Science and Technology. Smart meters use radio frequencies just like cell phones, televisions, wireless Internet and such mundane devices as garage door openers.

A concerned mother spoke to fellow Alamo Heights residents and City Council about CPS Smart Meters and their potential health effects. Photo by Katherine Nickas.
A concerned mother spoke to fellow Alamo Heights residents and City Council about CPS Smart Meters and their potential health effects. Photo by Katherine Nickas.

“According to the World Health Organization, if you used your cellphone for 15 minutes a day for one year that would be equivalent to the radiation associated with a smart meter that you would be exposed to for 375 years,” said Raiford Smith, vice president of Corporate Development for CPS Energy.

Despite several public informational meetings, some residents said they were not aware CPS Energy was installing the meters and that they were not given the choice of opting out of the company’s Smart Grid Program.

“Customers do have the opportunity to opt out of this program. When they’re notified they’re on the list, they can send in a postcard to give them a chance to opt out before the meter is installed,” Smith said.

For those who do opt out, there is a one-time fee is to install an Offsite Meter Read meter, and a $20 monthly reading fee each time CPS Energy has to dispatch a meter reader to the residence. Low income customers can apply for a reduced rate. Residents don’t have to pay the one-time fee to opt out if they notify CPS Energy before the smart meter is installed.

CPS energy opt out smart meter fee graph

Many residents lamented the disappearance of traditional analog meters, saying CPS should provide them the option of retaining an analog meter.

“Our property is about 50 years old – we can not opt out of the Smart Meter program,” said Nancy Woodard, property manager of Les Chateaux Townhomes Association, Inc. “We must have studies done on these meters before they’re implemented. I’m concerned they could have a serious effect on some of our residents.”

The members of the Alamo Heights City Council heard from concerned Alamo Heights residents about CPS Energy Smart Meters. Pictured counterclockwise from front: Councilmember Billa Burke, Councilmember John Savage, Councilmember Bobby Hasslocher, Mayor Louis Cooper, Councilmember Fred Prassel, and Councilmember Bobby Rosenthal.
The members of the Alamo Heights City Council heard from concerned Alamo Heights residents about CPS Energy Smart Meters. Pictured counterclockwise from front: Councilmember Linda Billa Burke, Councilmember John Savage, Councilmember Bobby Hasslocher, Mayor Louis Cooper, Councilmember Fred Prassel, and Councilmember Bobby Rosenthal. Photo by Katherine Nickas.

CPS Energy launched a pilot program in 2013 that placed 40,000 of the smart meters in service without incident. The energy utility is now moving forward with a service-wide rollout of 740,000 electric and 360,000 gas advanced meters with supporting infrastructure as part of its Smart Grid Initiative. The first phase of installations began in August.

The $290 million Smart Grid Initiative aims to save energy and money for both the user and the utility.  The new Landis + Gyr smart meters, installed by sub-contractor Corix, are equipped with advanced measuring features, remote disconnect and reconnect capabilities, and two-way communication networks that will allow customers to track their energy use through an online portal as early as next year.

Customers eventually will be able to opt in to programs or install technology that allows them to communicate with programmable devices, from air conditioners to dishwashers, through a Home Area Network (HAN) module to monitor and control electricity consumption. “Smart thermostats” are already available now through the CPS Energy Savers program.

Alamo Heights Mayor Louis Cooper tells citizens that a letter will be sent to CPS Energy requesting a 12-month delay of installation of the smart meters.
Alamo Heights Mayor Louis Cooper (left, center) tells citizens that a letter will be sent to CPS Energy requesting a 12-month delay of installation of the smart meters. Photo by Katherine Nickas.

Faulty installation of smart meters did lead to fires and a recall of some of the devices, though not those in use in San Antonio. A certain model of Sensus smart meters installed between 2010-2012 caused several fires in Portland. Canadian utilities had similar problems this summer. Hundreds of thousands of smart meters have been recalled, but CPS Energy and installation contractor representatives have said that Landis + Gyr meters have not caused fires and will be installed carefully. Technicians also will be on the lookout for aging base connections in older homes, and where they are found, upgrade them at no expense to the homeowner.

Customers will be notified 30 days before installation, and contacted again by telephone one week prior to installation. Smart meter installation for CPS Energy customers within the program area, save for those that opt out of the program, is expected to be completed by the end of 2018 (see map below).

Smart meter installation map courtesy of CPS Energy.
Smart meter installation map courtesy of CPS Energy.

*Featured/top image: Alamo Heights resident Marcia Weser voices concerns about CPS Energy’s new smart meters. Photo by Katherine Nickas.

Full disclosure: The Arsenal Group LLC, which publishes the Rivard Report provided consulting services to CPS Energy in 2012. Monika Maeckle, who co-founded the Rivard Report, worked for CPS Energy as director of integrated communications and has now returned to consulting.

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Katherine Nickas

Katherine Nickas was born in San Antonio near Fort Sam Houston but grew up in southern Indiana. In 2007, she began working for Indiana AgriNews where she covered topics ranging from corn and soybean production...