You may have missed it last week, but there was an excellent piece on the opposition to smart meters in California in the New York Times. PG&E has installed 7 million smart meters in California since 2006; they transmit real time data on consumers’ electricity use to the utility, helping them to allocate power more efficiently. The goal is to give consumers information about how they use power, and incentivize them to use less of it. However, opposition to the smart meters comes largely from two different constituencies: Tea Party conservatives and consumers afraid of EMF. Initially, you may remember, opposition to smart meters came when electricity bills increased; critics first charged that the meters were inaccurate, but it soon became apparent that the old meters were undercharging. Now, opposition from Tea Party conservatives to smart meters is predictable; doubtlessly PG&E is just the latest Big Brother out to destroy their lives. However, the anti-EMF opponents are a constituency that PG&E can work with, and should have worked with. After all, it would be easy enough to find a way to connect these meters to broadband lines.
However, if we step back and examine this problem, a lot of the fuss comes down to stakeholder engagement. Both Santa Cruz and Marin Counties put up obstacles to these meters because PG&E did not effectively engage with them beforehand. Ultimately, we are going to have difficulties adapting to our warming climate; as we make policy changes, it will be more important than ever to properly engage and address concerns before and during rollout. Unanimous consent is probably an unrealistic goal, but acknowledging and working with people is a must.