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Inside a “smart” meter

Written by Drew Heskin


Your power meter is reliable, hasn’t caused a problem in years and never seems to blow up. GVEA is planning to pull it out and replace it with something that is mostly air, called a “smart” meter.


GVEA’s replacement plan calls for 47,000 new “smart” meters to be deployed in the Fairbanks area by the end of 2018. So far, 1,400 new meters have been installed into the “smart” grid control system._


The main selling points provided by GVEA for “giving” you your new “smart” meters are:

  • Faster response time to outages
  • More precise information
  • Reduced meter repairs
  • With remote meter reading and reconnection, GVEA can save time and money and reduce air pollution by having fewer vehicles on the road
  • Load pattern efficiency
  • Same day service
  • Pinpoint power theft
  • Members will have access to usage data via an online member portal that will go-live after all meters are installed


GVEA claims “tremendous cost savings from staffing fewer meter readers.”  With this great “cost savings,” will we see our rates lowered accordingly – smaller monthly bills?


GVEA claims the following “myths” aren’t true:

Myth #1: Meters using wireless signals are a health threat.

Myth #2: Meters are an invasion of privacy.

Myth #3: Meters will not keep my data secure.

Myth #4: Meters do not provide any consumer benefits.


The above statements beg the question, “Doesn’t saying the statements are a ‘myth’ imply that they are not true, furthermore, why even bring them up if they weren’t true?”


I would support GVEA to adopt an “opt-In” in like they have in Eugene, Oregon. EWEB requires power customers to “opt-in” to “smart” meters and they may choose to keep their existing meter. _


Forcing or requiring people to get the new “smart” meters here in Fairbanks pushes liability of any damage caused by the “smart” meters to the GVEA board members, would you not agree? They are the individuals who approved the deployment of the 47,000 units.  If the board members are actually made liable for the decisions they make, perhaps they would be inclined to make better decisions benefitting everyone.


Your current analog meter is filled with, as you might expect, wheels, copper windings, a motor, heavy metal plates and a permanent magnet.


“Smart” meters are mostly air, an “on/off” circuit breaking switch and two circuit boards. These boards are similar to the ones you might see inside the case of an older home computer.


One of the boards in your “smart” meter is actually a cell phone – not with a screen like your typical cell-phone, but the bare card and antenna with cell phone capabilities – for example, it is capable of sending (SMS) text messages.


The other board inside the “smart” meter looks a little different. Attached to it are several large capacitors – long cylinders sticking up like skyscrapers in a busy city. Also, there is a shorter, yet much more powerful, super capacitor.


The capacitors can explode during a power surge caused by lightning or in situations similar to the case where a truck knocked over a power pole in Stockton, California two years ago. High power lines touched lower power lines leading to homes – causing dozens of “smart” meters to explode or burn out._


GVEA’s own Brian L. Youngberg, Vice-President of member services, wrote in a recent letter to a Fairbanks GVEA member:

“…the new meters cannot track and record individual appliance usage, will not transmit personally identifiable information over the network, and have been shown to emit frequencies lower than those produced by the current meters and common household devices like cell phones and microwaves.”


Silver Springs Networks, however, might. (They are the software company that has been hired to manage the software and communications for the “smart” meter replacement project here in Fairbanks, Alaska and many other locations.)


GVEA is one of 7 utilities in Alaska that are members of the Touchstone Energy Cooperative, which has 113 billion in assets across the nation in nearly every state.


GVEA customers ought to know where the data is going and “opt out” if they choose to do so.  Better yet, “opt in” if you would like to sell/share your data.


Al Gore, who invested $75 million with his partners in Silver Springs Networks, will remain on the board even after the following announcement: _


“Itron (NASDAQ:ITRI) will buy Silver Spring Networks (NYSE:SSNI) in a deal valued at $830M excluding $118M in cash.”


Once setup, the “smart” meter has the capability of communicating with “smart” things in your home. Besides the “smart” fridge and “smart” water heater, some “smart” meters can communicate with your Wi-Fi router and even your IPhone.


CTIA represents wireless communication companies throughout the U.S.  CTIA suggests even more things you can expect to hook up to your “smart” meter in the near future, “…nearly everything can and will become a wireless device.”


“…light bulbs, wheelchairs, socks.  Even the bricks in our walls will be connected.”_



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Drew Heskin

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