CARSON CITY — NV Energy is divesting from coal and investing in natural gas and renewable energy. The announcement spurred fear of price raises. Nevadans already pay nearly the highest power rates in the Mountain West region. The $104.10 average monthly bill comes in second only to Arizona, where residents pay an average of $118.62 per month. So what’s driving energy costs in this state?
Nevada ranks 41st in the nation in energy usage but has the 18th highest energy rate in the nation. Now it is introducing Smart meters. Nevada is supposedly one of those states with a smart meter ‘opt out’ policy. On the ground, however, the reality is a little different.
Mona Orkoulas lives in the mountains outside Las Vegas, Nevada, where she works in real estate. Like many Americans she has been impacted by the downturn in the economy and is struggling to make ends meet. She has always paid her bills on time, and makes protecting her health a priority.
Nevada Energy (NVE) installed a ‘smart’ meter on Mona’s bedroom wall in January 2012 without so much as a few days’ notice. She started noticing an increase in her heart rate first thing in the morning and an elevated blood pressure. She felt fatigued, and started having headaches. A low grinding sound had started when the meter was installed and this made it difficult for Mona to sleep, or even be in her own home during the day. She tried different things to get rid of the symptoms, but nothing worked. Finally it dawned on her: the only thing which had changed in her life was the meter. When she started researching the issue, she realized she was not alone.
Meanwhile NV Energy wants general rates on its Southern Nevada residential customers to rise 24 percent in January, according to the state’s Consumer Protection Bureau. “This is a very greedy request,” said Eric Witkoski, a consumer advocate who runs the bureau. “It’s huge. They’re seeking higher profits and trying to tell customers not to worry. We believe the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada will see through it.”
Witkoski said NV Energy will submit a number of other applications for rate increases. They include the cost of new “smart meters” the company has installed in customers’ homes and a $500 million north-south transmission line that the company is building on the east side of the state.
Additionally, a bill passed shortly before the end of the Nevada Legislature on Tuesday would allow the company to build up to a $1 billion transmission line to export renewable energy to other states, according to the Consumer Protection Bureau.
“We will see a huge increase now, and a huge increase three years from now,” Jacobsen said.
Yackira said the legislation would protect ratepayers, or possibly cause rates to go down.
He called the $1 billion figure a “red herring.”
Meanwhile Mona has amassed a whole binder of studies about the negative effects of EMF’s on health. A letter from her doctor to NV Energy reads:
Neurological and cardiological findings may be associated with pulsed EMF… EEG, ECG, MRI and sleep study changes may be associated in some hypersensitive individuals to pulsed EMF. If multiple Smart meters are in use in her area, the possibility of constructive and destructive interference between the various EMF signals is a distinct possibility whose effects may be potentially more dangerous. I recommend that this patient be allowed to have NVE reinstall an analog meter at her house.
So she called the power company, expecting that they would remove the unsanctioned meter right away — or at least come out and do an analysis to find out what was causing the grinding noise. Months later, frustrated after at least six failed attempts to have NVE address the problem, Mona finally purchased a standard analog meter and had an electrician install it at her residence. She carefully photographed and recorded the readings on the old and new meter, to be sure that she paid for every kilowatt-hour used. She attempted to return the unwanted smart meter to NVE offices, but was turned away.
On August 6th, at about 10:30am, three men from Nevada Energy, armed with guns, arrived unannounced on her property, removed the analog meter from the socket, took her analog meter as well as the unauthorized smart meter she had removed, and left her living without electricity. One of the men identified himself as an investigator with the company and said that he was investigating her for “criminal tampering.”
She was in tears, visibly shaken by the encounter, and recalls asking the men, “Why are you on my property with guns?” Their response: “this is procedure Ma’am.” (If this has become the “procedure” then we need to act to stop this kind of utility intimidation and abuse.)
More than a year later, the lights were still off and Mona hasn’t budged. “They’re not putting that thing back on my house,” she says.
We asked Angel de Fazio, who has been on the front lines working to fight NVE’s smart meter program, what is going on here? Doesn’t Nevada have an ‘opt out’ choice?
Angel says “Nevada residents only won the right to be placed on the ‘delay list’, not a full ‘opt out’.”
In other words, if you wised up before the installation trucks came and still have your analog, NVE has a ‘delay list’ you can sign to ‘delay’ your installation date. But if the power company managed to sneak on your property and install a smart meter — even without permission — then your choice is a smart meter or no power at all, as Mona discovered. Even if you have a letter from your doctor, the power company apparently thinks it knows best what’s good for you.
While awareness about smart meter problems has been greater in states like California, Maine, and several other states, the “take a smart meter or lose your power” policy remains quietly in force in other states where awareness may not be as widespread. However, people in these states (like Mona) have had enough and are standing up to the utility industry in increasing numbers.
Angel tells Stop Smart Meters! that Nevada’s opt out proceeding has been a sham. “The Nevada PUC will be holding hearings on October 3rd-5th to determine which of the ‘non-transmitting’ meters they will trial to replace people’s analogs and how much they will charge for the ‘privilege’. Even the ‘right’ to have a non-transmitting meter is under threat.” In other words, there may be no official ‘opt out’ at all unless people organize and make more noise.
“NVE has conned the PUC into believing that only a certain number of people can opt out or their Federal Stimulus Grant will be in jeopardy. That is a lie,” Angel says.
NVE has been calling people on the ‘delay list’ who want to ‘opt out’ and repeatedly pressuring them to accept a smart meter. The company admitted that they lied to utility customers, telling them that the meters are federally mandated (which they are not), and telling people their power would be cut if they didn’t accept the meter (which they do not have the legal authority to do). Similar stories abound about other utilities including Southern California Edison, Detroit Edison, Duke Energy, and Oncor.
Now NVE is accusing Mona of tampering with their equipment, which she says is ridiculous, because she gave them plenty of opportunity to remove the problematic smart meter. “I had no intention of stealing electricity,” she says. “I just wanted the grinding noise and headaches to stop.”
California Penal code defines “tampering” as:
(carrying out)(1) specified acts with the intent to obtain utility serviceswithout paying the full charge, or with the intent to enable another person to do so, or with the intent to deprive any utility of its full lawful charges for utility services.”
Nevada laws are similar. Despite this, NVE claims that Mona “tampered” with the meter and are now charging her hundreds of dollars in fees and forcing her to obtain an expensive County inspection. For the last month, Mona has been ‘camping’ in her house, unable to use her appliances, lights or hot water. The laundry that was in the washing machine when they cut her power was locked in, and by the time she could get it out it was totally destroyed by mildew. The NVE agents came without warning.
Mona has borrowed a gas generator that she uses for an hour a day, but she’s worried that this is a fire hazard in the forest where she lives. The power cut has had a devastating effect on her life, she says. “My business has taken a nosedive since I have had to travel into town to access my e-mails. I can’t use my computer, fax machine, or any lights. I’m cooking over a camp stove in my living room.”
Back in December, Stop Smart Meters! raised more than $1000 from supporters like you to help families who had been cut off by PG&E try to have a decent Christmas. These donations helped people through a difficult time, and the outpouring of community support gave them strength to take back their power from the utility. In part because of the strength of these families who refused to accept a forced smart meter (or a ‘non-transmitting’ meter), we now have an official analog ‘opt out’ policy in California. It’s extortion for sure, but it’s better than the policies they still have in places like Nevada
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