A new high-tech device is sparking a lot of controversy for a local power company.
This month, Dominion Virginia Power began a yearlong process of replacing old meters with new smart meters. Some 200,000 customers inside the Beltway will have them by May 2014.
Dominion claims the newer technology allows for more efficiency, using an antenna to send customers’ energy usage directly to their servers, eliminating the need for meter readers, but company spokesperson Le-Ha Anderson said she hears the critics.
"We've taken a very slow and a very deliberate approach to installing the smart meters on our system because we wanted to understand the concerns," she said.
Center for Safer Wireless Executive Director Desiree Jaworski of Arlington claims the health risks are too great, citing radiation from the smart meters as the problem.
"They are radiating your body and they didn't ask permission to do that," she said
She refuses the replacement.
"They might have heart palpitations, tendinitis in their ears -- ringing in your ears – insomnia," Jaworski said.
Dominion said that’s not the case, claiming its radio frequency emissions barely register.
"There is a lower level of RF readings on smart meter than there are on a handheld remote control that you use in the evening when you watch TV," Anderson said.
Cyber security is another concern, but Anderson said hackers can’t use the meters to bring down the power grid.
"Each smart meter has a unique double encryption code,” Anderson said. “In addition to that, there are multiple firewalls at Dominion's system."
"Well, we see how good firewalls are,” Jaworski said. “We just saw that China can break into the Department of Defense firewalls."
In other parts of the country, fires have caused concerns, but Dominion said corrosion caused those fires. Dominion repairs that before smart meter installations.
Some Dominion customers aren’t concerned at all, but others want to do more digging.
"Right now, I'd probably call to see if I can get more information and check their website, see if I can find out what this is all about," said Kim Sackett, of Alexandria.
"If you still, at the end of the day, decide that you don't want a smart meter, then you have the opportunity to opt out," Anderson said.
For now, that option is free.
Falls Church has been part of a smart meter pilot program since 2010. The assistant city manager said they've had no complaints from residents since the installation of smart meters.