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Council discussion about smart meters sparks disagreements

One citizen was skeptical of Puget Sound Energy’s smart meters.

During a Langley city council meeting Monday night, representatives from Puget Sound Energy spoke about the efforts the company is making to update the meters across the 10 counties it serves.

The representatives explained that the meters in Langley are nearing the end of their lives, and the systems need to be updated within the next few years. Smart meters, electronic devices measuring energy consumption, are being considered as replacements.

Residents do have the option, however, to opt out of getting a smart meter installed. Instead, they can choose a meter that does not have wireless communication capability.

Langley citizen Mark Wahl presented an opposing viewpoint to the council about smart meters, advocating for them not to be installed.

Wahl denounced the smart meters in a presentation, saying they are susceptible to hacking and carry “dirty electricity” in the lines, among other things.

According to the American Cancer Society, smart meters give off a type of low-energy radiation, meaning it doesn’t damage DNA or cause cancer. The amount of such energy coming from a smart meter is much less than a person could be exposed to if using a cell phone.

In addition, Wahl raised concerns about the city’s wireless code, referring to it as “feeble” and “anemic” and claiming that the city does not know what power strength is being emitted from its two cell towers and suggested that it could be harmful to citizens.

As a third point of contention, Wahl pointed to the cell tower near the intersection of Sixth Street and Cascade Avenue, claiming it hasn’t been checked for compliance with the Federal Communication Commission, pays no lease fee, is on city right of way and is “located dangerously close” to houses, the South Whidbey Children’s Center, the Island Church of Whidbey and Healing Circles.

The World Health Organization established a project in 1996 assessing the scientific evidence of possible health effects of electromagnetic fields.

“Experiments with healthy volunteers indicate that short-term exposure at the levels present in the environment or in the home do not cause any apparent detrimental effects,” according to the WHO. “Exposures to higher levels that might be harmful are restricted by national and international guidelines.”

Wahl suggested that the council strengthen the city’s wireless code and create a separate committee to address this matter.

Langley officials initially said they were not sure how the cell tower got to be there. Many of them were not around when it was installed.

In an email to The South Whidbey Record, Mayor Tim Callison said the cell tower’s status is currently being investigated.

The pole, he said, belongs to PSE. When it was placed there, the property belonged to the church.

“Because of subsequent road work the actual position of the pole is now unclear due to minor changes in the right of way,” Callison said. “We have commissioned a survey to determine exactly whose property the pole is on.”

He added that the city does currently receive utility tax revenues from the tower’s operation.

Most council members seemed open to exploring Wahl’s suggestion of strengthening city code. But Councilmember Thomas Gill questioned the science of Wahl’s statements.

“This reeks of bad science to me,” he said. “With all of the information I’ve gleaned in 20 years in the industry, this all just does not make any sense and doesn’t mesh with anything I’ve ever learned, either in the field or in school.”

He added that some people do have electromagnetic sensitivity, but the odds that it’s coming from a cell tower is negligible, and more likely it’s coming from higher-powered sources in the home, such as compact fluorescent lightbulbs.

Gill also said there are already numerous permits required that prevent companies from putting up cell towers without the city’s permission.

In the end, the majority of the council agreed to refer the matter to the city’s Public Works Advisory Committee, which will bring it back to the council in 90 days for review. In the meantime, the cell tower on Sixth Street and Cascade Avenue will be surveyed.

The measure passed 4-1, with Gill voting in opposition.

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