Movie ‘Take Back Your Power’ contained ‘great deal of misinformation’

Thomas Engel
Posted 1/16/18

The proposed plan of the Jefferson County Public Utility District (PUD) to replace aging analog electrical meters with advanced smart meters has been discussed in Leader perspective pieces and …

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Movie ‘Take Back Your Power’ contained ‘great deal of misinformation’


The proposed plan of the Jefferson County Public Utility District (PUD) to replace aging analog electrical meters with advanced smart meters has been discussed in Leader perspective pieces and letters to the editor.

Many statements made in these contributions are inaccurate. For example, a letter stated that the installation of smart meters in Benton County nearly bankrupted their PUD. However, their PUD informed our PUD that there was no basis for this claim. They are very happy with their new smart meter system.

A Dutch study has been cited often as evidence that smart meters are inaccurate or as stated in one letter, “wildly inaccurate.” However, the authors have written to me that the current generation of smart meters are inaccurate only in exceptional cases. Smart meters are accurate in normal applications, such as ours.

Another letter chastised a PUD commissioner for identifying inaccurate claims in a perspective piece. Each of us is entitled to our own opinions, but not to our own facts. We all benefit when mistakes are pointed out and corrected.


Negative opinions on smart meters have been formed locally by the movie “Take Back Your Power,” which contains a great deal of misinformation.

The following are among the many inaccurate assertions made in the movie: Smart meters are an unproven technology that ratepayers have rejected. Smart meters cause fires. Smart meters are inaccurate. Smart meters are harmful to your health. Smart meters are a privacy and security risk. Each of these assertions is discussed individually.

Smart meters are a widespread proven technology. Seventy-two million smart meters have been installed in the U.S. In the Pacific Northwest, PSE and Seattle City Light are switching to smart meters system-wide. Portland General Electric has switched. Inland Power and Light of Spokane has installed 39,000 smart meters. Clark, Cowlitz and Benton County PUDs have had smart meters for almost a decade. Franklin and Grant County PUDs are installing them now. Chelan will follow soon.

Smart meters do not cause fires. Fires are caused not by meters, but rather by electrical resistance at the meter base on the house. Fires are rare but equally likely for smart and analog meters. Smart meters would alert the PUD to temperature increases in the meter base, allowing remote power shutoff before a fire occurs.

Smart meters are accurate. There are currently 2,000 digital meters in Jefferson County using the same measurement technology as the proposed smart meters. None of these meters has ever been shown to be inaccurate.

Smart meters are not harmful to your health. Radio frequency (RF) radiation emitted by cell phones may be harmful for long-term frequent users. However, the daily RF radiation emitted by smart meters is less than 0.1 percent of 10 minutes of cell phone use. If you do not experience negative health effects from cell phone use, you will experience none from smart meters. Also, the RF radiation emitted by the proposed smart meters is only 3 percent of that from the current meters.

Your confidential data is not at risk. The data transmitted contains only electrical usage and the meter serial number. The PUD pledges that this information will be used for billing purposes only and will never be made available to third parties. In this age of skilled hackers, data transmitted over the internet may become public. However, compare the risk from a disclosure of your electrical usage and meter serial number with that from making a credit card purchase on the internet.


Opponents of smart meters would replace existing meters with analog meters, which are no longer manufactured and are only available as “refurbished” discards from utilities that have switched to smart meters. At a resale price of $22 per meter and shop-time costs of at least $100/hour, it is unprofitable to replace moving parts or do anything other than the necessary work of calibration and resetting the discarded meter to zero.

Our PUD would receive used meters of unknown age with much if not most of their usable lifetime gone, a very poor investment.

The PUD has not provided a detailed financial plan that shows all costs associated with meter replacement and should compare the long-term costs and relative advantages of three meter-replacement plans:

Digital meters without RF transmitters that are manually read.

Digital meters with a single RF transmitter that are read by PUD vehicles driving through neighborhoods.

Advanced smart meters with two-way RF transmitters that are read remotely.

This comparison will allow the best and most cost-effective meter replacement system to be identified. Additionally, contracts for meter replacement work should be heavily scrutinized to ensure that if specified performance criteria are not met, additional costs incurred will not be borne by the PUD.

Thomas Engel is a retired University of Washington (UW) chemistry professor. He was assisted by Peter Lauritzen, a retired UW electrical engineering professor, in writing this perspective. Norm Norton and Russ Michel endorse this perspective. All are members of the Jefferson County PUD’s Citizens Advisory Board, but do not speak for the board.


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