Ministers change for the meter has campaigners smarting.
A group that seeks to reverse the UK’s smart meter programme on health grounds has accused the government of reneging on commitments that their nationwide installation will be voluntary.
A smart meter, which can only be installed in the UK’s 30 million households by energy companies, regularly records consumption of gas and electricity. It then transmits that information back to the companies for monitoring and billing purposes
The massive project, which will cost consumers a total of around £11 billion on their bills, is considered vital in attempts to cut energy use.
The hope is that customers will shift energy use to periods when they are charged less and turn off appliances. The government estimates the average customer will save £23 a year by 2020.
According to energy secretary Ed Davey: “Smart meters will put customers in control, allowing them to adopt energy efficiency measures that can help save money on their bills, offset price increases and reduce carbon emissions.”
Ministers have promised the scheme will be voluntary but Davey’s undersecretary, Baroness Verma, recently told the Lords that customers switching energy suppliers “cannot replace a smart meter with a dumb meter”.
With five million people switching energy suppliers each year, Elizabeth Evans, one of the founders of campaigning group Stop Smart Meters, said: “This is a sneaky way of trying to bring in mandatory smart metering by default and we strongly oppose this move. Customers should have the choice of an analogue alternative to a smart meter.”
Evans fears that the radio- frequency levels of radiation employed to keep smart meters running constantly will be toohigh. Her group estimates the devices pulse 43,000 times a day.
Evans claims that in the US, Canada and Australia, where smart meters are already widely employed, “thousands of people are complaining of debilitating symptoms such as severe insomnia, sometimes to the point where they can no longer live in their house or neighbourhood”. The American Academy for Environmental Medicine has become so concerned that last year it called for a moratorium on new installations until more research could be undertaken.
Evans believes installing smart meters would mean ignoring “emerging evidence that radio- frequency radiation (RF) is dangerous to users of mobile phones, as we have already seen a dramatic 50 per cent rise in frontal and temporal brain tumours from 1999 to 2009”.
She added: “Countries all around the world are reporting large rises in thyroid and salivary gland tumours where mobile phone radiation is highest.”
In May 2011, the World Health Organisation said RF radiation is a “possible human carcinogen”.
The former Director at the New York State Department of Health Dr David O Carpenter has said: “there is evidence that exposure to RF at elevated levels increases the risk of cancer and damage to the nervous system.”
The Department of Energy and Climate Change disagrees with Evans. A DECC pokesperson said: “The proposals by the Baroness are about ensuring customers continue to receive more accurate bills when they switch suppliers.
Others who believe smart meters do not damage health include Dr John Swanson of the Biological Effects Policy Advisory Group and Dr Jill Meara of Public Health England, both of who recently gave evidence alongside Evans to the Energy and Climate Change Committee that is examining concerns being raised by the smart meter roll-out.