by John Rowe 

A group of concerned citizens from Crestone and the Baca met with a group put together by the San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative (SLVREC) on June 30 at the POA Hall for two hours to discuss SLVREC’s plans to replace the existing meters on everyone’s power post with so called “smart meters”. These smart meters are catching on all over America and are becoming the norm in most locales. They can detect and record much more detailed data on electrical usage in someone’s home, including how much power is being used, when, and potentially, with what electrical devices. They emit the same sort of radio waves (RFs) that are used in cell phones and wifi internet such as is used here locally by many.

People all over America are concerned about health issues arising out of the cumulative affect of these RFs in cell phones, wifi internet, and now, these smart meters. It was reported at the meeting that data is beginning to be collected to demonstrate an increase in health problems in places where smart meter use is widespread, including some cancers.  Many also worried about privacy issues as these devices may be able to monitor someone’s activities within their homes to an alarming degree and expressed concern on who had access to this information. Jobs are also sacrificed because these meters need no on-the-spot reading and can be designed to send billing information directly to a customer’s account.

Electrical power providers have evidence collected from extensive studies that demonstrate that the levels of RFs put out by these meters are far below levels needed to cause anyone any harm. The waves emitted are much less than cell phones and the meters are usually at least a few hundred feet from peoples homes and cell phones are, of course, right up against a user’s body.  And there is not science that demonstrates that cell phones create health problems either. Opponents to smart meters object to this evidence being used as the end-all-and-be-all of the debate point to new evidence suggesting that the governmental and industry standards to acceptable levels of these radio waves are set far too low and  that the widespread use of RF emitting devices is too new to really know what levels are harmful.

SLVREC stressed that all information collected by smart meters is strictly confidential and will not be used by anyone except for billing. They say that the loss of jobs is minimal and will be offset by the anticipated lowing of electrical bills. Smart meter opponents think bills will go up and are skeptical of personal information being protected properly,

The meeting was organized by a group of area residents: Lonnie Nichols, Dorje Root, Vicki Webb, Dean Lloyd and Susan Sawyer. About 50 concerned citizens rounded out the no-smart meters contingent. SLVREC was represented by CEO Loren Howard, smart meter expert Dr. Bob Pierston of Colorado Sate University, and smart meters’ manufacturing representative Jeff Langely, of LEIDOS. Several other unintroduced SLVREC folks were present also.

The meeting began with introductions of key people and Mr. Nichols stating his case for an opt-out clause for area residents He detailed investigations that he and Dean Lloyd made that showed that there are potentially alarming levels of RFs in some places in our community. Vicki Webb spoke next, giving an eloquent plea to have the Crestone area exempted from smart phones as she lives with a son who is hyper-sensitive and cannot tolerate many RFs. Dorje Root and Susan Sawyer also spoke briefly in defense of Crestone and the Baca being excluded from SLVREC plans. Loren Howard and Jeff Langley addressed some points briefly, with SLVREC expert Dr. Pierston being silent during these presentations. Mr. Howard then took the rest of the meeting to call on people in the audience to weigh in,  many of them waiting with hands up for many minutes for an opportunity to speak. The meeting closed at 5pm with several people still wanting a chance to give their input. Almost all declared that a prime reason to live in Crestone was to avoid toxins present in modern society. Some were belligerent and spoke in finger-wagging tones about how Mr. Howard worked for them and had better listen. One man tore up his electrical bill as a demonstration as to what he would do if smart meters came to pass. Two or three people were actually yelling when their turn to speak came around. For his part, Loren Howard seemed to withdraw and shut down a little more with each speaker and seemed relieved and unreachable by meeting’s end.

People left the meeting  looking discouraged and this reporter spoke to several attendees and asked them what they thought of the meeting. Each and every one of them agreed with this reporter and said they thought that the SLVREC group was not open to discuss any sort of opt-out option for area residents from the start and were just putting in an appearance. The folks this reporter talked to were more split on the audience’s negative impact on the discussion with some thinking that people were justified in being frustrated and some, like this reporter, thinking that the audience animosity was another reason that the meeting did not accomplish much.  It should be noted that Loren Howard and company did not make any sort of statement to the effect of wanting to set people at ease with the upcoming new technology and made little effort to alleviate citizen fears. The concerned citizens, for their part, did not ask Mr. Howard for an audience with the decision makers in the process, the SLVREC board, or what it would take for Mr. Howard to be in favor of an opt-out clause, should it become apparent that a clear majority of Crestone/Baca do not want smart meters. There seemed to be no room in the anti-smart meters group for individual opt-out, only a community one.

Addendum: As the Eagle goes to press we’ve been informed that during a presentation to the SLVREC by three Crestonians on 7/26/16, the SLVREC Board of Directors stated that a vote would be made on “individual opt out” for installations of the new smart meter.  At this time, we do not have any results for this vote.