Pepco Meter Mania! Most people just hate Pepco's service. Some say the utility is making them sick.

Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

For a meter read, it was an unusually large crowd.

Three Pepco supervisors and an representative from the D.C. Public Service Commission assembled one day last month on the gravelly driveway outside Chris Turner’s house in Takoma.

Turner was there too, along with a couple of his neighbors. They looked on as Pepco engineer Mike Foster pointed the long arm of an antenna at the new electric meter mounted on the side of Turner’s house. Each time it transmitted, a line would jump on the screen Foster held in his other hand.

Pepco has rolled out meters like Turner’s to nearly all of its 270,000 D.C. customers over the last 18 months. To advocates, they represent the promise of a “smart grid” of greener energy.

Turner, however, is not one of those advocates.

As anyone who subscribes to one of the city’s neighborhood email lists knows, a vocal portion of the population sees menace in the meters. Their posts offer links to Internet sites that say the meters may cause house fires, spy on you, or overbill. Less specifically, critics also rail against the devices’ contribution to an allegedly harmful “fog” of electromagnetic waves.

If you believe “electrosensitivity” is real, the smart meters represent a massive new assault on life as we know it.

“I can’t sleep and my head doesn’t feel right often” says Turner, the vice present of the upper Northwest community group Neighbors, Inc. Turner says he first noticed the symptoms in late January. Since then, he says, he’s moved his bedroom to put more distance between himself and the digital device. He also shelled out about $150 on monitoring equipment; you can see the equipment in action in a video Turner posted online at the video sharing website, Vimeo, that shows his meter allegedly going haywire.

Turner wants the electric company to return his old meter. Pepco has refused.

“The meters are safe and the benefits are real,” says Kenneth Farrell, manager of Advanced Metering Infrastructure deployment for the utility. “There’s no valid technical reason” to allow residents to opt out.

Turner’s side had no better luck with the D.C. Public Service Commission, which regulates Pepco. The meters are safe, says Commission Chair Betty Ann Kane, who notes that the city’s Water and Sewer Authority has used the same technology for six years.

While some scientific research suggests that long-term exposure to electromagnetic fields could increase the risks of cancer or neurological problems, electrosensitivity is not a recognized diagnosis; many experts think it’s purely psychosomatic.

That’s one way to put it. Other residents see the fears expressed in smart meter foes’ listserv blitzes—they tend to put the word “smart” in scare quotes, and hint at a conspiracy to cover up the carcinogenic truth—as downright paranoid.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” says Susanna Murley, a smart grid supporter who works at Planet Forward, a sustainability website. “I was surprised when I got on this Listserv.” Murley says the meters will reduce stress on the power grid, protecting the environment.

Tom Matzzie, an Internet consultant in Mount Pleasant, says he’d had to “bite his tongue,” so as not to mock some of the posts. Matzzie says the smart grid is essential to scaling up the amount of energy generated by renewable sources like his own home’s solar panels.

“Their concerns seem like rumors on the Internet, myths and conspiracy theories,” Matzzie says.

Depending on your point of view, you can thank either the subprime mortgage industry or Barack Obama for the meter wars.

Pepco had been working for years on plans to upgrade its old-fashioned meters. But the plans were fast-tracked by the stimulus bill that followed the 2008 financial collapse. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act set aside $4.5 billon for the new technology. Pepco got $44.6 million. A successful 2010 pilot project was held up as a national model, Pepco says; it began installing meters citywide that same year.

Alas, like just about every other aspect of the stimulus, things didn’t quite work out so smoothly. Several states saw revolts over the new meters. People like Turner make it clear that alarms about newfangled, government-endorsed devices can happen inside the Beltway as easily as in the Sun Belt.

So far, Pepco’s strategy has been to compare the meters to trusted everyday gadgets. Back at Turner’s house, Foster, the Pepco engineer, brought along a walkie-talkie and two-way radio to illustrate how even baby monitors and FM radios send out much stronger signals than the meters. The FCC allows for signal strength of slightly more than 600 microwatts per square centimeter. A Pepco crew’s remote read of Turner’s meter clocked it at just 170 microwatts.

“Even if the meter was transmitting 100 percent of the time, 24/7, this level is well below the safety limits,” Foster wrote in a follow-up email.

That’s not very comforting to Cleveland Park resident Ann Loikow, who like Turner, is concerned that the smart meters could add dangerous amounts of radiation to the invisible beams already zipping around from cell phones, telecommunications towers, and other sources.

“We’re sitting in this bath of electromagnetic signals that the human body wasn’t designed for,” says Loikow, who says a work crew snuck onto her property and replaced her meter about six weeks ago, while she and her husband were asleep. The couple had already thwarted two previous attempts.

“There is no-opt out provision in D.C.,” Pepco spokesman Bob Hainey said when asked about Loikow’s allegation. “That’s the bottom line.” (Loikow would have better luck if she moved: California and Vermont are among the states with opt-out programs). Kane says it’s not going to happen here: The D.C. Council legislation enabling the meter conversion stipulated that “all” residents should get the new meters.”

Besides, Kane adds: “if people started opting out, it would change the economics. It would change the calculation that we used to determine that the federal funds were sufficient.”

When it isn’t debunking Internet rumors, Pepco offers some fairly convincing arguments for why the new meters are good: The devices, for instance, allow customers to track their energy usage in hourly increments, which could help them save on bills. Real time information will also help the utility fix outages more quickly. Unfortunately, Pepco’s ability to sell those arguments is hampered by its laggardly outage-response times and the much-maligned utility’s recent request for a rate hike.

“Pepco has a responsibility to be more reliable (in fixing outages) regardless,” says Louis Davis, Jr., senior state director for AARP’s D.C. office. While his group is “cautiously optimistic” about smart meters, he says the power company has yet to make a convincing case that the new technology will lead to lower bills.

The senior-citizens’ organization is less troubled by unproven electromagnetic health allegations than by more prosaic pocketbook issues: Smart meter installation is expected to usher in “dynamic pricing,” which would raise the price of electricity during peak usage hours, like summer afternoons when air conditioners are running at full blast. That might encourage the general public to conserve, but it would be tough on the elderly, who are most likely to be home during afternoon hours.

Pepco says it hopes that higher afternoon prices would convince more people to, say, put off that load of laundry until after 10 p.m., lessening the stress on the system. Environmentalist say that reduction in stress would reduce the pressure to build new power plants.

That’s still a few years away, says Kane. Her commission, which would have to okay such a plan, rejected Pepco’s first dynamic pricing proposal a few years ago.

Back on the email lists, though, quibbling over the dollars and cents of dynamic pricing seems beside the point. “So, not only am I being exposed to RF radiation against my will, but, in addition, every single house on my street has a smart meter that will be transmitting to a receiver nearby,” someone named Nyaneba Nkrumah wrote on the Chevy Chase list on March 12. “Has anyone studied that compounding effect? That is indeed an RF ‘fog.’”

Correction: Due to a reporting error, this story misstated the affiliation of the person who accompanied Pepco representatives when they visited Chris Turner's house. He came from the Public Service Commission, not the Office of the People's Counsel. The story has been updated to reflect this correction.

Our Readers Say

On January 13, 2012 The Health Services Agency of Santa Cruz County, California issued a Report entitled: "Health Risks Associated with Smart Meters."

Excerpts: “The public health issue of concern in regard to SmartMeters is the involuntary exposure of individuals and households to electromagnetic field (EMF) radiation.”

“There are numerous situations in which the distance between the SmartMeters and humans is less than three feet on an ongoing basis, e.g. a SmartMeter mounted on the external wall to a bedroom with the bed placed adjacent to that mounting next to the internal wall. ”

“…SmartMeters emit frequencies almost continuously, day and night, seven days a week.”

Note: DC Water (WASA) Meters broadcast updates ever 12 hours and are not connected to your house. PEPCO meters are broadcasting continuously: 34,000, to 56,000 and more times per 24 hours. link: and

In response to California Administrative Law Judge Amy Kikugawa's questions "SDG&E revealed technical data showing that its customers are being subjected to virtually continuous pulses of microwave radiation (up to 23,000+ pulses in a 24 hour period, up to every 3 seconds)."

For fire concerns related to "smart" meters:
Christine MacDonald did a sorry job at leaving Mr.Chris Turner with no offensive to combat the comments by supporters and lobbyist of the Smart Meter. Mr.Turner's reading of his smart meter is not enough to bring the true story and problems with the planned SMART GRID PROJECT by PEPCO. The Smart Meter is only a small part of the overall Smart Grid Project.

Mr. Turner added many aspects of the Smart Meter to my beginnings in getting Ward 4 customers and other citizens involved when the Public Service Commission was conducting public hearings throughout the city. Personally, I advocated for the citizens to have the OPT-Out option in which the D.C. Council did not in fact require in its legislation for PEPCO to charge D.C. residents for the remaining cost to pay for the Smart Grid PROJECT in the city.

We must start from the beginning.
The Council's legislation - which allowed PEPCO to charge D.C. customers for the remaining cost to totally purchase the estimated $90 million Smart Grid Project - if PEPCO obtained a "substantial" amount of funding first from the Federal Government Smart Grid Project GRANT.

The U.S. Dept. of Energy only granted PEPCO approximately $42.6 million dollars of federal funds for the Smart Grid Project. This amount $42.6 million is not [from an accounting view] a "substanial" amount to satisfy the Council's requirements to bill the D.C. citizen for the remaining $57.4 million to purchase the $90 million Smart Grid Project. Therefore, PEPCO never should have had the go-ahead to charge D.C. citizens for the remaining $57.4 million since it failed to get a "substaintial" amount of up-front funding.

I questioned the Public Service Commission's Chairman Ms.Betty Ann Kane [former D.C. Councilmember] at the Chevy Chase Recreation Center Public Hearing [11/2011] about PEPCO satisfying the Council's "substantial" up-front funding requirement and Ms. Kane refused to anwser.

My research indicated and PEPCO stated at the 4th District MPD public hearing [ANC 4B] meeting that discharges of Smart Meter readings were sent to receiver every 8 to 10 minutes. Just imagine, a full grid of electromagnetic pulses shooting from 25 to 40 homes' Smart Meters creating a full rainbow of pulses that would surround any person or animal present on that neighborhood block. Not just the one meter reading of less than harmful ray as declared in the City Paper article.

Additonally, I pushed that since the Smart Meter has not been fully tested [long term basis] as to any affects on humans and animals that PEPCO should indemnify/underwrite all Smart Meters that are installed for any damage to homeowners property [Arch Fires] and ill effects that people may sustain from its operations. My request for PEPCO to underwrite Smart Meters was sent out to Chevy Chase, Takoma, Brightwood, Takoma and Lammond-Riggs Listserv's and also to the Office of the People Counsel [Ms.Noel.

The Council must hold hearings to understand what PEPCO total Smart Grid Project is about in order to save D.C. customers any additional and unjustied future increases in electrical services.

Smart Meter
The Smart Meter is a gimmick to increase customer's electrical usages.
Currently, the old electric meters only gave monthly readings and peak rates were allowed and established around 8:00a.m. to approximately 7:00 p.m.

NOW, PEPCO will be recording customer's usage on a 8 to 13 minute continuos reading which will offer the times that usage is at it highest - that on the other hand- would never have been revealed during the old meter readings. PEPCO will request to abandon the 8 to 7 pm allowance to apply peak rates to now apply the rates to their actual readings.

Calvin Gurley
I was terribly injured by the radiation emissions from an electric transmitting digital utility meter. These cheap, made in China meters are malfunctioning which is why they are spewing unprecedented levels of pulsing radiation and injuring people.
The not so "smart" meter should be recalled.
Smart people save Energy not "Smart Meters".
Keep in mind that an EDUCATED consumer makes the BEST CUSTOMER!
If you have read this far, here is your opportunity to get an education! Go to mailbox# 138201 and download the PDF document that I filed with the Public Service Commission of Maryland, and keep in mind that those that DO NOT Learn From History...are DOOMED to repeat it.

George Karadimas\Casenum\Admin%20Filings\110000-159999\138201\&maillogNum=138201

'they tend to put the word “smart” in scare quotes,'

...or quotation marks.
Little Sam is that All you have to contribute?? 'they tend to put the word “smart” in scare quotes,' Very Intuitive indeed!
A little knowledge and misplaced conviction may result in things that are scary and entertaining. This is an example of both.
These people are retarded. It's really a failure of the education system that people who are completely science and math illiterate can make claims about science and math phenomena. All the Jenny McCarthy's of the world who believe anything someone tells them and then we end up with outbreaks of 100 year old communicable diseases because someone 'thinks' they know that immunizations cause autism.

If you're typing at the average computer, ever had wifi, used a cell phone, used a microwave or ridden in a car, you're getting way worse EMI than you'll ever get from a smart meter.

I'd pray that elected officials aren't stupid enough to act on this BS, but then I've seen who DC elects.
MR. NAME , one wonders where you get your education and the information to call people RETARDED! Can you point to an Impartial source that provides the information regarding safety and efficacy of the smart meter/grid system? that Appropriately educated people have raised concerns with? I am an Electrical Engineer with a degree.
I suggest you get some relevant education if you care to be rescued from your apparent ignorance of the matter. It has been said that IGNORANCE can be remedied with Education....BUT STUPID is Forever.

Links have been posted above already. Do thyself a favor and use them.
"I am an Electrical Engineer with a degree."

Congratulations. The guy you think you are crapping on is still right. This world has been bathing in EMI for 60 years. These smart meters are a pittance compared to the other gadgets you take for granted, and even those have not caused humans awful problems.
Step right up. Step right up. Plenty of room around Mr. Karadimas' soap box. Please be considerate and turn off your wifi enabled devices.
Jeremy and Patrick......Lookie here boys!
One wonders Do you get paid by the hour? by PEPCO or do you suffer from a genetic defect??

"Public Health Physician Warns of Smart Meter Dangers, Stresses Need for Analog Option"
You have a doctor.

I have the World Health Organization:

"Adding up the results of all scientific studies, the overall weight of evidence does not indicate that electromagnetic fields cause long-term health effects such as cancer."
I have good reason not to get one of these smart meters: years ago I signed up for the previous incarnation, the Kilowatchers program.

PEPCO installed a device on my A/C compressor. After they terminated the program I asked them to come and remove it. Twice, They said they would, but didn't.

Then my A/C system died 3 summers ago. The HVAC guy said the PEPCO device had shorted out and killed the compressor. Pepco DID pay their bill and only then removed the device.

Well, thank to Pepco, I now have a high-efficiency HVAC system. For $7000 before the federal tax credit.
Jeremy Your reply in post 12 is Irrelevant as it is a GENERAL discussion of Types of EMF and does not address the smart meter issue! I happent to know that WHo classifies the emissions from smart meters as a Class 2B carcinogen.

Do you want to learn the truth? ...... then go here.
Smart Choices About Smart Meters
Critical Issues to Consider in Deciding Whether to Opt Out
Transmitting Smart Meters Pose A Serious Threat To Public Health
George, your assumption that I work for Pepco or that I have a genetic defect proves my point. You're paranoid, obsessed and aggressive. You have chosen your cause. You will fight for it. The rest of us will continue our progression in to the 21st century.
Patrick, if there is a BIAS in these commentaries that is due to the inability and unwillingness of those that post to educate themselves on the torrential information that is presented to them , regarding the concerns and installed customer base experience regarding the smart meter/grid. True to form here you go again....." You're paranoid, obsessed and aggressive. You have chosen your cause. You will fight for it. The rest of us will continue our progression in to the 21st century " and yiada , yiada, yiada .

The Fact is People by the action they take today, shape their current existence on this planet and the future of their children, and a Clean planet Free from microwave Radiation, 24/7 surveillance and control is a worthy Quest. It is You that sees it as a Fight.

You have to come to the realization, that as Humans..we all witness the same event, but individually we perceive it in a way that makes sense to us based on own past education and experience. That is why "preconceived notions" and Unwillingness to be open to education are Dangerous things.

Now regarding the.... "Progression to the 21st century" you have the absolute right of your opinion, but your Incompetent unqualified and unauthorized to voice a pip-squeak of an utterance regarding......."The rest of us ...." , because the REST OF US, reserve the right to speak for ourselves and that is why we are here.

And here is another link where PROGRESS is being Made as we speak...albeit without You.
"Concerns Regarding Expected Energy Savings from PG&E Smart Meters"
...a real life analysis from a practitioner in the energy conservation industry.
Protect Yourself From Digital Utility Meters
Revealed: SDG&E Smart Meter Technical Data and Bio-Effects
 your permission.
I read awhile back on DCist about the possibility of DC Water's new smartmeters (installed last summer) over charging people, especially on Capitol Hill. Any more news of this? Here's the link to the original article:
Kate, we would be happy to discuss your billing concerns with you. Feel free to email us anytime.

DC Water
Office of External Affairs
The below post was submitted to Christine MacDonald's blog four days ago but has still not been approved while other comments submitted after it have been approved (

Hi Again Christine,

First let me again thank you for your article which got many points across but let me again say, and this not to be judgmental or accusatory, that you missed some very important points.


Your opening paragraph States:

“For a meter read, it was an unusually large crowd. Three Pepco supervisors and an investigator with the D.C. Office of the People’s Counsel assembled one day last month on the gravelly driveway outside Chris Turner’s house in Takoma."

The investigator was Mr. Maurice Smith from the DC Public Service Commission. He ordered PEPCO to do the test. There was nobody present from the Office of People’s Counsel. Note: The Office of People’s Counsel is petitioning the Commission to study letting customers opt out as the Public Service Commissioners in Main, Nevada and California have done.


As I stated in my comment above the purpose of the test was to determine why my meter was going haywire or broadcasting virtually non-stop at 32,000 to 56,000 times per day. You did not report that all four PEPCO employees agreed the meter was operating normally and that the PEPCO website was in error when it stated that the meters broadcast up to six times per day and are asleep 99 percent of the time.


You then have a quote from the Chairman of the Public Service Commission stating: “The meters are safe, says Commission Chair Betty Ann Kane, who notes that the city’s Water and Sewer Authority has used the same technology for six years.”

This is not correct. As I wrote in my comment above: In calls by me to the Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) Customer Service and to the WASA Assistant General Manager for Consumer Services, Charles Kiely about WASA meters, I was told that the WASA meters broadcast twice every 24 hours. Their meters are run by a battery and are not attached to a home or building but are in the ground. Note: The PEPCO meters are not battery powered but are powered by a draw from the current coming into the house and customers are apparently paying $3 to $7 a month to run them.

From my perspective it is important to get the facts straight and to inform the reader of those facts. Failing to report them is a disservice to the reader and to the issue. The purpose of the meter test was not to see what the output was but to see how often it was broadcasting.

As you may recall I asked each PEPCO supervisor present if they agreed with the PEPCO Technician when he stated the PEPCO website was was in error and that my meter was functioning accurately. They all agreed with him. So the point is that you did not report that. You reported other information that was not relevant to the reason for the Commission ordering the test.

In addition, you are aware, that the office of People’s Counsel has petitioned the Commission twice now asking that the issue of letting customers opt out be studied. You were aware as of the date of your article that the Commission was in the process of issuing a ruling. Your article came out at a very important time and could have explained the issue to the reader and the Citizens of the District of Columbia in a much more concise and informative way. The article appeared in the: “District Line” section of the City Paper which is read by many in the Wilson Building and in DC Government.

In addition you could have alerted the Commission Chairman that her information about the DC Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) Meters was contradicted by WASA and reported that in the article.

Your argument above to me (Chris, I’m sorry you feel you didn’t get enough space to express yourself in my City Paper story. The newspaper only has so many pages; we have space constraints) is really beside the point.

I do not feel I did not get enough space. I feel that you did not report the issues. Do I like the article: yes. Do I think it is a good article: yes. Could it have been more accurate and to the Point: yes.


Let me also point out that one of the neighbors present told us that she had had a brain tumor and thought it was from her portable phone (not cell phone). There is quite a bit of evidence that cell phones, portable phones, wifi routers and other EMF emitting devices are harmful. Some of that evidence can be found here: and here

Also: If a Health Department at the request of a County Board of Supervisors of one of the Greenest Counties in America (Santa Cruz) issues a report entitled: “Health Risks Associated with Smart Meters” ( ) I would argue that might deserve a small mention as well as the fact that there are reports of fires related to wireless “smart” meters and concerns about the EMF pulses damaging wiring in older homes:;;


Thank you.

Chris Turner, Esq.
Neighbors, Inc., vice-president
I miss the good old days, back when a tinfoil hat was sufficient protection.
the debate over the possible health effects of smart meters is saturated enough without my input - I know I'm excited to get one because I'm tired of Pepco employees sneaking around/behind my property to get a reading, or getting estimated bills.

i would like to say though, that the comment about this being a way to charge more based on more precise usage information is just stupid. Pepco doesn't care about your individual usage information for the purpose of defining peak hours. They already know how much electricity is being drawn at any time from the source without these meters, why would they care what your particular residence is doing - they can't create peak usage billing differently for each customer. The more precise information will only serve to help the consumer because it will be easier for them to identify exactly what activity is costing them whatever amount.

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