Safety of smart meters questioned

Smart meters will start to be introduced for the bulk of North Otago electricity consumers from September, but an Oamaru couple has questioned possible effects on health and the environment.

They have suggested electricity retailers who will install the smart meters into Network Waitaki's network need to inform consumers about any possible health and environmental effects, so an informed decision can be made by individuals about whether to allow them in their homes.

Meridian Energy has confirmed it will start fitting smart meters in September for its 8500 customers on the Network Waitaki network, which services 12,500 consumers from Shag Point to the Waitaki River and inland to the Hakataramea Valley and Ohau.

Contact Energy, which has about 2500 customers in the area, was in the process of planning to roll out smart meters, but has put that on hold while it assesses options for their installation.

TrustPower has no plans at this stage for them in North Otago, but will move to smart meters over the next few years.

The Oamaru couple worried about smart meters, who did not want to be named, have already notified their retailer they will not have one in their home.

They were not telling others to do the same, but urged them to make an informed decision.

The meters will wirelessly relay information to retailers, emitting microwave frequencies.

''Will we, as Oamaru residents, feel comfortable giving our consent by saying nothing ... before exploring the associated possible long-term health risks to us and our environment?'' the couple asked.

All three retailers said there was no evidence, from New Zealand or internationally, that smart meters posed health and environmental risks.

They also said if customers had issues with smart meters they could contact them to discuss those and possible alternatives.

TrustPower community relations manager Graeme Purches said much of the information being disseminated via the internet was misleading and there was no reputable peer-reviewed scientific evidence to support the claims.

As a former electronic engineer he went through his entire home, which had a smart meter, with analysers and concluded there were no emissions from the meters.

Customers would be advised if their meters were to be changed and TrustPower would deal directly with any who had concerns.

A Meridian spokeswoman said about half its customers in New Zealand already had smart meters.

They were being rolled out in Dunedin (Aurora Energy) at present, would start in North Otago (Network Waitaki) in September, followed by South and East Otago (OtagoNet) and Central Otago and Queenstown (Aurora Energy) at a later date.

If any customers had concerns about the meters they should contact Meridian.

The meters used the same radio frequency as mobile phones and there was no evidence of health risks, the spokeswoman said.

''According to the World Health Organisation, the very low radio frequency emitted by smart meters does not pose a threat to human health,'' she said.

Contact Energy was in the process of contracting to deploy smart meters in North Otago, but after Network Waitaki withdrew from the process was now reassessing options.

No decision had yet been made on when they would be installed.

Contact's spokesperson said it installed smart meters more than 1m from areas in which people usually spent their time and exposure to the radio frequencies emitted were very low.

''In fact, both mobile phones and household microwaves produce higher levels of [radio] wave exposure.''



Meter facts

What is a smart meter?

An electronic device that records consumption in periods of a day or less, sending that information to the retailer for billing and monitoring.


Retailers: Remote meter reading, more accurate meter reading, labour cost savings, better matching demand with generation, more accurate demand-driven pricing and remote connection-disconnection.

Householders: Add-on features give more control over electricity use to potentially reduce bills and contribute to electricity savings, no more estimated bills and faster disconnections-connections.

Who pays?

The meters are paid for by the electricity retailers.


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