Over 100 worried residents packed into the disco-themed ballroom of Moose Lodge in Glendale last night — summoned by a growing base of health, privacy and consumer advocates lashing out against California's sketchy new method of measuring household energy use.

The new wireless devices are called Smart Meters, and they're part of a United Nations-led movement to hook the world up to a happy green “smart grid.” Such a network would, theoretically…

… allow customers to watch their own habits, meanwhile enabling utility companies (and therefore the government) to remotely switch electricity off during peak hours, or perhaps back on after an outage.

Needless to say, not everyone's buying the sales pitch.

Mindy Spatt from NorCal-based utility watchdog TURN, one of three panelists, told the L.A.-area audience that her organization has received hundreds of calls from consumers who claim their energy bills have skyrocketed since their Smart Meters were installed.

The whole point of the meter — really the only thing green about it — is to encourage us to change our behavior by charging us different rates at different times of day. Saving the Earth to save money, or whatever.

But the installation process doesn't include a simple rate chart, nor easy access to the constant updates that the meter is pulsing back to utility-company headquarters. In other words, unsuspecting Earth-haters who wash their clothes during the day won't really know what they're doing wrong until they receive their first tragic Smart Meter bill in the mail.

This learn the hard way approach is obviously of benefit to energy execs, not the environment. And it's a far cry from the changes promised in the California Energy Act of 2005, which stated that the Smart Meters would be available upon request, not as some mandatory sneak attack.

So how do you back out of this BS? Some utility companies currently have delay lists for the meters: Call (800) 810-2369 for SoCal Edison. But if that doesn't work, or you regretfully fall in L.A. DWP territory, panelists recommended fencing your old analog meter in with locks, chains, keep-off signs — whatever it takes. (That, or forum emcee Ron Kaye, formerly of the LA Daily News, says he'll lend you his vicious rescue dog to chase the DWP duds away.) Go-getters up in Santa Cruz have a few tips, too.

There was also a huge fear in the room, last night, about the electromagnetic fields (EMFs) emanating from the fancy new devils.

Many have accused the paranoid EMF camp of crying “cancer” at anything emitting even the mildest frequencies, such as cellphones or wireless routers. But Smart Meters do take the invisible air gunk to new weirds: EMF expert and panelist Cindy Sage (awesome apellido for an expert) warned that sleeping near a Smart Meter is almost like sleeping near an actual cellphone tower.

“We're at the same place now [with wireless devices] that we were 50 to 60 years ago with tobacco companies,” said Oram Miller, who specializes in EMF-free home makeovers.

Some have felt the effects harder than others. “I don't know where I'm going to live,” said former Burbank resident Shane Gregory, a delicate blonde who explained that the Smart Meter installed on her apartment complex back in July immediately began giving her throbbing headaches and nausea.

A couple more public commenters chimed in that they, too, had been forced to move into their cars or relatives' houses after the apparent side-effects became too much for them. Given, they were all EMF-sensitive beforehand, but panelist Orlean Koehle warned that they could be the “canaries in the coal mine.”

Koehle — a devout Republican who recently penned an entire book comparing the Smart Meter initiative to Big Brother — delved into the heaviest of the night's conspiracy theories.

She claimed that utility companies will eventually be able to tell where you're standing in your house, what your personal habits and “sexual activities” are (Jesus), and even if you're “growing marijuana.”

Well, there you go — get the pothead activists riled on this, and you'll have to move your “Stop Smart Meters” forum from a hokey '70s hotel to a freaking football stadium. They'll adore the fact that Smart Meters are strike one of the UN's infamous Agenda 21:

Until then, join the zealots at your city's next council meeting and urge local politicians to do like many NorCal jurisdictions have done already: Pass a moratorium on Smart Meters. At least until they're proven safe, effective and a little less creepy.


LA Weekly