Duke smart meter rollout sparks health concerns for some customers
Years ago, when Michael Brasunas got his first cell phone, he remembers feeling an almost “itchy headache” sensation in his ear canal when he held the device against his head.
Brasunas says he has long felt physical symptoms associated with exposure to radio frequencies such as those released by cell phones and Wi-Fi. “I would always get these strange sensations in my head and ear,” he says.
Brasunas and his family don’t have Wi-Fi in their home. Instead, their internet connection comes through wired Ethernet, and they keep their cell phones on airplane mode — or turned off — as much as possible. He and his wife, Nadine, only allow their kids to use the family’s landline phone. “We keep a very clean, radiation-free house,” Michael says.
The only device they couldn’t control was their electric meter. Michael Brasunas says the meter emitted an unnerving amount of RF radiation, which he tested using a piece of equipment called an “electrosmog detector.”
Brasunas called Duke to see if they could have the meter removed. Instead, Brasunas says a Duke representative offered to put him on the opt-out list for a new kind of meter the company would be releasing in the near future — a smart meter, which uses RF communications to provide Duke with more granular information about customers’ energy use.
“We didn’t want the current meter,” Brasunas says. “And they were offering an opt-out for a future meter.”
After two years of phone calls with various representatives from Duke Energy, Brasunas felt like his attempts to resolve the situation were going nowhere. So he decided to replace the meter on his house with an analog meter he found online that wouldn’t release RF energy.
Hoping they would be able to make a legal argument that they were acting in self-defense, Brasunas and three families in his neighborhood unplugged their Duke Energy meters, documenting the date and time of the disconnection and taking photos of the devices. They also photographed the new meters and documented the date and time of their installation “so that there would be no questions about us possibly trying to steal electricity,” Brasunas says.
They didn’t expect a strong reaction from Duke.
“We thought, ‘Well, there’s four houses, so they won’t do anything crazy,’” he says. “And we were wrong. They came in full force.”
On June 28, officers with the Asheville Police Department escorted line workers from Duke Energy to the neighborhood as they cut electricity to the houses belonging to Brasunas and his neighbors. The families spent the next month without power.
Duke Energy has now installed smart meters for a significant number of customers in North Carolina, but the rollout has experienced some pushback from consumers like Brasunas with concerns about the impact of RF emissions on the human body.