Smart meters are not unsafe, two PUC judges rule

The installation of a smart meter on the house of a Philadelphia customer who complained the device made her sick did not constitute unreasonable or unsafe utility service, two Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission administrative law judges have ruled.

The judges dismissed the claim of Susan Kreider, a registered nurse who said she suffered “deleterious health effects” after Peco Energy Co. installed a new wireless electrical meter on her Germantown home in 2013. She said her symptoms went away after she replaced the digital meter with an older analog meter she bought on the internet.

“Ms. Kreider's testimony failed to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the existence of the smart meter in her home was the cause of her illness,” the judges, Darlene Heep and Christopher P. Pell, said in their decision.

“Ms. Kreider's testimony was outweighed by that of two experts presented by Peco who rebutted Ms. Kreider's contention that there was a causal connection between her ailments and the smart meter,” the judges said in the decision, which was posted Sept. 22 on the PUC’s website.

Kreider said she had not yet seen the decision. “Even just talking about it, my head is about to explode,” she said Thursday.

She said she would rather go without electric utility service than to live with one of the devices. “I do know I won’t accept a smart meter on my house,” Kreider said.

The recommended decision will now be reviewed by the five-member PUC.

Peco said it was pleased with the decision. "It has not been demonstrated that the use of AMI technology causes adverse human health effects," the company said in a statement. The utility calls smart meters "advanced metering infrastructure," or AMI.

Peco said it has installed 1.7 million AMI meters on its system "without issue and customers continue to benefit from this new technology."

Kreider’s case has become a bellwether for a smart-meter opponents, who object to them on privacy, safety, or health grounds.

Utilities say they are required to install the meters to comply with a 2008 energy-conservation law that ordered all Pennsylvania utilities to deploy the devices. Unlike some states that allow customers to opt out of having meters, Pennsylvania law makes no exceptions.

The commission previously declined to hear scores of complaints from smart-meter opponents because the legislative intent was clear.

But in January, the PUC allowed Kreider's complaint to proceed to a hearing because she said she could document that the electromagnetic radiation from the meter caused her to get sick, which might violate the public utility code requiring utilities to provide safe service.

At her March hearing, Kreider represented herself and did not present any supporting witnesses.  

Peco presented as a witness a Harvard-trained physician, who testified there was no reliable medical evidence linking smart meters to the ailments Kreider said she suffered: elevated blood pressure or heart rates, sleep interruption, and Guillain-Barre syndrome.

The utility also hired a Maryland engineering professor, who testified that Peco’s smart meters did not exceed federal safety standards for electromagnetic emissions. Peco says that the new AMI meters actually emit less radiation than the wireless meters on its system since 2000.

Since Kreider’s case went to a hearing, at least eight other Peco customers with similar health-related complaints have filed cases pending before the PUC. Several are represented by Harrisburg attorney Edward Lanza.