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Fairfield residents head to Des Moines to testify on smart meters

Several Fairfield residents will travel to Des Moines this week to provide testimony on smart meters before the Iowa Utilities Board.

Alliant Energy – Interstate Power and Light Company plans to swap out its analog and digital meters in favor of “smart” meters that transmit usage data via radio frequency.

Witnesses both for and against the move have testified before the Iowa Utilities Board, the administrative body that will decide whether to allow Alliant Energy to make the change. At the conclusion of the most recent hearing Nov. 5-6, not all of the remaining witnesses were called to testify. The eight remaining witnesses will testify at the board’s next meeting Wednesday.

One of the eight witnesses will be a representative from Alliant Energy. The other seven oppose smart meters, and will ask the board to deny Alliant Energy’s request.

Many of those seven people are from Fairfield. Jonathan Lipman, director of The Institute for Maharishi Vastu Architecture, will talk about smart meters’ effect on the value of Vastu homes.

“There is $200 million worth of Vastu houses in Iowa,” he said. “One central element in Maharishi Vastu Architecture is taking precautions to limit exposure to electromagnetic radiation. Smart meters create electromagnetic radiation.”

Lipman said there is reason to believe that “dirty electricity,” a term for unusable electromagnetic energy created by electric devices, can be dangerous to humans. He cited the case of teachers who developed cancer at La Quinta Middle School in California. In that case, the device producing the dirty electricity was not a smart meter but a 12,000 volt transformer in the school’s basement.

Physician Sam Milham and electronic engineer Lloyd Morgan published a report in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine in 2008 where they concluded that cancer rates at the school were “unusually high and strongly associated with exposure to high frequency voltage transients.”

However, that conclusion has met some resistance. A state of California study of La Quinta Middle School published in 2015 examined cancer rates in the school from 2006-2012, and found them to be average, and not elevated as Milham and Morgan had argued.

Lipman said that his main argument to the board will be economic.

“I want the board to know that the sale value of [Vastu] homes will be harmed if smart meters are mounted on them,” he said.

Lipman and all other six witnesses against smart meters have already submitted their written testimony to the board. They will spend Wednesday answering questions under cross-examination from attorneys representing Alliant Energy. The witness testifying on behalf of Alliant Energy will be cross-examined by Fairfield attorney Jay Marcus.

Marcus said the issue boils down to whether utility customers “have the right to be as careful as we want.”

“As we can see from the objections filed, people from all over the state have these [safety] concerns,” he said.

Marcus said he expects the IUB will not make its decision on Alliant Energy’s request until late January, considering the thousands of pages of testimony it must review.

Fairfield resident Emily Kelly will testify against smart meters. Kelly said she will testify about two distinct issues, one that affects her as a landlord and the other that affects her as a solar power customer.

One of the rules Alliant Energy is asking for would require smart meters to be installed on homes when its owner changes. This means that even people who requested and received an opt-out from smart meters could not promise that opt-out to the new owner of the house.

“That will make homes harder to sell,” Kelly said.

Kelly is particularly worried about this part because she owns rental properties in town. She’s concerned that when one tenant moves out, she’ll have to get a smart meter on the property, unless she wants to put the meter in her name and bill the tenant herself.

“This particular requirement feels draconian,” she said. “It would damage our real estate market greatly.”

The solar angle on smart meters is that solar customers have been told they cannot opt out of smart meters. Kelly doesn’t understand this, since the solar industry relied on analog meters before digital meters came along.

Kelly mentioned that a portion of the Iowa Public Utility’s code states that utilities cannot discriminate against renewable sources of energy in their rates or their services, and she feels this is discrimination.

“We’re not being treated the same as everyone else,” she said.

Fairfield resident Kathy Matara said her testimony to the board will be about freedom of choice and why it’s important. She said she doesn’t understand how leaving the analog meters in place costs Alliant money.

“Buying smart meters costs money,” she said.

Matara said there is a petition at Thymely Solutions for those who wish to keep their analog meter. People interested in signing it are asked to write down their address and account number. Thus far, Alliant Energy has maintained that it will not allow customers to keep their analog meters, though Matara said she hopes the utility will bend on that point.

Alliant Energy has stated that its reasons for preferring smart meters include eliminating the need for meter readers, and faster notification of power outages.

The other four witnesses who will testify against smart meters are Leonard Goldman, Bill Bathgate, Ken Walton and Tim Schoechle.