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Under examination: 'smart meters' that sent fault codes back to utility offices. Photo: David Dodge / Green Energy Futures via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
Under examination: 'smart meters' that sent fault codes back to utility offices. Photo: David Dodge / Green Energy Futures via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
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Stop the £11 billion 'smart meter' ripoff!

Mel Kelly

14th August 2015

At an £11 billion cost to energy users, and against all expert advice, writes Mel Kelly, the government is forcing the rollout of 'smart meters' repeatedly exposed as expensive, poorly tested and potential threats to our health and privacy. This madness must stop.

Unwanted by consumers, over-engineered and mind-blowingly expensive, the scheme should be halted, altered or scrapped to avoid a potentially catastrophic government IT disaster.

An EU energy directive proclaimed 80% of homes across the EU should have smart meters fitted by 2020 if fitting them is cost effective in the long run.

In 2013, the German Economy Ministry described the EU's recommendation as "inadvisable" because the installation of smart meters "would be too costly for customers", citing an Ernst & Young report which concluded the cost of fitting them outweighs the installation costs. Nine other EU countries agreed with Germany.

The Coalition government, on the other hand, decided Britain's taxpayers, already struggling to meet deficit reduction, should be forced to pay £11 billion to roll out 'smart' meters to replace the existing electricity meters on behalf of the poor energy industry.

One article which slammed the decision as a colossal waste of cash revealed an independent report written by Mott McDonald for the government stated smart meters would not be cost effective as they would bring a £4 billion net present value cost - the civil service, in contrast, inflated this figure by £8 billion, claiming there would be a £4 billion net present value benefit instead.

But by March this year the Energy and Climate Change Committee themselves agreed with the Mott McDonald conclusion, stating the planned roll-out "runs the risk of falling far short of expectations. At worst, it could prove to be a costly failure", costing most consumers more than it could save them.

This was backed by a report by the Institute of Directors in the same month, which warned that the government's rollout of smart meters "should be halted, altered or scrapped to avoid a potentially catastrophic government IT disaster."

Their report went on to describe the £11bn scheme as "unwanted by consumers, over-engineered and mind-blowingly expensive".

Broken promise: 'no legal obligation'

Despite the weight of evidence now coming against the government rolling out smart meters and the government commitment "there will not be a legal obligation on individuals to have one" the government has decided to not only force smart meters on the nation but to start criminalising those who don't fit them.

In March this year the coalition government amended the Heat Network (Metering and Billing Regulations) 2014 to make it a criminal offence if public and private landlords do not fit smart meters in their properties if they have more than one tenant and the heat is supplied from 'communal or district' heat networks.

The legislation covers both the landlord and all their tenants (and sub-tenants)placing a legal obligation on all to supply "accurate billing information" with landlords having to report to the National Measurement and Regulations Office (weights and measures).

This means people renting in high rise tower blocks, sheltered Housing complexes, eco communities where the power comes from communal and community heating systems must have smart meters fitted by their landlords - by law - despite the government's claim there would be "no legal obligation" to have one fitted.

Homeowners and sole tenancies are exempt, for now, with the government choosing to target pensioners and the poor in high rise tower blocks first, like benefit changes, targeting the weakest in society first who are paying higher bills than the rest of the nation.

The government has also chosen to target the least powerful in the business community too for smart meters to be fitted first, with most small businesses still unaware 'half hourly charging' by energy companies, which just happen to require smart meters, will come into effect, only for "small business premises", from April 2017.

'Massive collection of personal data' with RF pollution

As well as huge economic cost to landlords, tenants, small business and the tax payer, the government's roll out of smart meters reports warn of this also bringing major privacy and health concerns along with massively inflated energy bills due to errors that appear to be inherent in smart meter systems.

The EU Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) warned in 2012 smart meters could be a threat to privacy as they are capable of "massive collection of personal data" over and above energy consumption as smart meters could "track what households do within the privacy of their homes"

And then there's the additional electromagnetic pollution they emit in our homes and workplaces. Dr David Carpenter MD, a Harvard Medical School graduate, who has worked in the area of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and public health for over 18 years warns:

"While no one has actually done human health studies in relation to people living in homes with smart meters we have evidence from a whole variety of other sources of radio frequency exposure that demonstrates convincingly and consistently that exposure to radio-frequency radiation (RFR) at elevated levels for long periods of time increases the risk of cancer, damages the nervous system and adversely affects the reproductive organs."

Inexplicably huge increases in bills

Worldwide, consumers are also complaining of their electricity bills increasing hugely after smart meters are fitted, with one man in Florida complaining his bed-ridden mother's electricity bill claimed her consumption had increased nearly 59% since the smart meter was installed, despite his mother's habits not changing.

Reports in Canada reveal energy bill shocks for Canadians too after smart meters were rolled out, with one man's energy bill increasing five-fold after the smart meter was fitted with the report going on to say "Since smart meters were installed, the Ontario Ombudsman was investigating nearly 11,000 complaints about the energy company Hydro One's bills."

Just weeks ago the Ontario Ombudsman produced a damning report where he said "Hydro One issued faulty bills to more than 100,000 customers, lied to the government and regulators in a bid to cover up the problem" with a senior citizen in Timmins who had $10,000 pulled from his bank account and "A ski resort unexpectedly received a bill for $37 million." Good reason for cancelling your direct debit if a smart meter is installed.

Just last week the UK energy industry criticised the government proposals for testing smart meters, for not meeting industry standards, which does not bode well for Britain.

Government acting against all its advisors

It is no wonder we have a deficit when the government acts against the advice of its own energy committee, the CBI and ten other EU countries who all state this is against the national interest as it adds huge unnecessary costs - £11 billion and counting - in these times of deficit and austerity while setting UK business at a disadvantage within the EU.

Add to this the likelihood of business and households up and down the country starting to receive hugely inflated energy bills with huge sums being unexpectedly taken from their bank accounts by direct debit because the government is rolling out smart meters that have not been tested to industry standards.

How will the shoddy testing impact on our health and our privacy as well as our wallets? Who will be liable - landlords, energy companies or taxpayers when it all goes wrong?

Should it be a crime for tenants and landlords to provide wrongful billing data when the smart meters approved by the government are not tested to industry standards?

Should the government's smart meter programme be cancelled now? The answer must be yes.

 


 

Mel Kelly is a systems analyst / programmer and mother of two.

This article was first published by openDemocracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

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