A nationwide effort to upgrade local power systems with modern equipment has run into growing resistance in Texas, where suspicion of government and fear of electronic snooping have made a humble household device the center of a politically charged showdown over personal liberty.
Some angry residents are building steel cages around their electric meters, threatening installers who show up with new ones and brandishing Texas flags at boisterous hearings about the utility conversion. At a recent hearing at the state Capitol in Austin, protesters insisted everyone present recite the Pledge of Allegiance before the meeting could begin.
“It’s Gestapo. You can’t do this,” said Shar Wall of Houston, who attended the Public Utility Commission meeting wearing a large red “Texas Conservative” pin. “I’m a redneck Texas girl and I won’t put up with it.”
The conversion has triggered opposition in a number of states. Some residents have questioned the health impact of the radio waves the devices emit or the possibility that hackers could get confidential data from the transmissions.
However, the Federal Communications Commission has rated the smart meters as safe, saying they are considered unlikely to cause bodily tissue heating or electric shock. The radio frequency radiation levels are much lower than those emitted by cellphones, supporters say.
It seems this is much more about wanting individual freedom and not wanting any government interference rather than the actual meters themselves and their supposed health hazards, as these new smart meters would actually benefit these people in saving money on electricity bills.
Add in a good old-fashioned big brother like conspiracy theory about surveillance and you got a catchy story to get people on your side.