Possible hazards of new technology tested in Friendly neighborhood worries community

‘Smart’ meters proposed in neighborhood, some residents concerned about potential job losses and health risks

By Ponta Abadi

The possible health hazards of a new technological development is scaring some community members of the Friendly Area Neighborhood.

A digital electric meter issued by EWEB in the Friendly Area Neighborhood.

The Eugene Water and Electric Board has proposed changing out old mechanical electric meters with “smart” meters. The new meters would electronically record residents’ power usage and let residents see exactly how much energy they use at any given time through display screens in their homes. Currently 100 smart meters are being tested in the neighborhood.

Not all Friendly residents are happy with this potential switch. Some are worried about the possibly harmful effects of the radio frequency transmissions emitted by the smart meters while others are concerned about whether jobs will be lost during the switch.

Chelsea Joyce frequents Friendly Area Neighborhood and doesn’t appreciate how EWEB is handling the situation.

“EWEB is up to no good right now. They’re increasing the rate and then if they’re wanting to cut workers while increasing the rate by putting in these devices that haven’t really been throughly researched, that’s scary stuff,” Joyce said. “What else can we do because they’ve got a total monopoly over our utilities. We don’t really have another choice unless we’re going to do what seems extreme and live off the grid.”

Lianna Hart (left) and Chelsea Joyce at Off the Waffle, a popular eating spot in the Friendly Area Neighborhood.

Not all residents of the neighborhood see the project as a bad thing, however. Friendly Area Neighborhood resident Deborah Simmons sympathized with both sides of the argument.

“The negative side of the health seems to be a little bit unclear as to what it is and when you include wireless routers and cell phone towers and everything else I’m not sure that it really adds significantly,” Simmons said. “I see the benefits as being that we would get good feedback of our use and we would be able to view the time of day and know when we could turn things off and turn things on to improve the power supply.”

Friendly Area Neighborhood resident Deborah Simmons with her husband.

John Femal, community education coordinator at EWEB, is confident the devices are less harmless than devices most residents probably already have in their homes.

“Wi-Fi, baby monitors, radios, all members in this electro-magnetic spectrum are used from radio frequency waves,” Femal said. “You don’t sleep on your smart meter, but you sleep next to your phone.”

Several cities, like Portland, have already worked to make the switch to smart meters. Portland General Electric has already put in around 150,000 new meters, according to Femal.

Some residents like Kevin Poehner, who works at Capella Market in the neighborhood, saw the practical side of the smart meters but wants to be sure the devices are completely safe.

“I guess if there’s a possibility that it’s going to emit radioactive particles, they should probably test it out but I think I’m in favor of it for the most part,” Poehner said. “The old system is kind of busted where the dude has to walk around and creep in my backyard and read the meter and do all that stuff. Long term it’s got a lot of potential but right now I understand it’s got some problems.”

Femal reassures residents that job losses, if any, may not be as some community members might imagine. He also wants to make sure Friendly residents stay informed on the subject.

“There’s also going to be new positions available through smart meters,” he said. “There’s a lot of unsupported information out there, resistance around it.”

EWEB no longer even buys old mechanical meters, Femal said. “We’re in the digital world now.”

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