By on January 7, 2011

As one of California’s leading bastions of privileged liberalism (2009 per-capita income: $91,483) , Marin County is probably one of the top counties worldwide in terms of EV market potential. But apparently the local government isn’t ready to tap its unique combination of money and idealism to become a leading market for electric cars. Even as Californian EV activists are being forced to install second power meters to separate EV charging from home electricity use in order to take advantage of lower electricity rates for EV charging, the NYT reports that Marin County has banned the use of “smart meters” which would allow more widespread EV adoption.

Smart meters, which communicate electricity use wirelessly to the power company would allow EV charging to be easily separated from home use, but they also raise a number of issues that Marin County simply doesn’t want to have to deal with. Privacy, health risks from electromagnetic frequency radiation, and radio communication interruptions are all cited in the Marin County ordinance [PDF here] which bans installation of the smart meters in unincorporated areas of the county. The upside for EV enthusiasts is that this affects on 70k of the county’s 260k residents… but again, knowing Marin County, the county’s numerous rural mansions are probably a huge part of its potential base of EV support. And the towns of Fairfax and Watsonville have already banned smart readers, as has Santa Cruz County, another prime EV market. Time to start rethinking those running costs?

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22 Comments on “Marin County Bans “Smart Grid”: Will The EV Market Suffer?...”

  • avatar

    Several years ago, a friend of my wife, who has been a California resident near San Diego, admitted when we visited her that in spite of all the “liberalism”, “idealism”, whatever “ism” you want to call it, often goes by the wayside when words call for action, especially if it affects our pocketbook for dubious reasons including altruism. Say one thing and do another, but aren’t most of us like that, anyway? Nothing has changed, but sure would like to live in Marin county as long as I wasn’t near the 101! Beautiful country. We were there last year.

  • avatar

    I can’t afford to live there either but at least I’m not that bitter about it.  I don’t see what the huge issue is if the only concerns are the ones mentioned.  If the county is worried about people somehow paying less with these chargers then there may be a point, but it sounds like an expedient to air some political anger, and pretty undirected and offensive anger to boot.
    Come to think of it; one could probably become an intern/student at Green Gulch Farm by Muir Beach.  It wouldn’t cost much but since it’s run by the SF Zen Center I would imagine political (or any other) passions would need to be muted a bit.

  • avatar

    Privacy, health risks from electromagnetic frequency radiation, and radio communication interruptions are all cited in the Marin County ordinance [PDF here] which bans installation of the smart meters in unincorporated areas of the county

    This sort of thing always makes me facepalm when it arises among fellow progressives.  I just got into a nice dust-up in my son’s school’s PTA about WiFi in the schools the the supposed danger it presents: all sorts of pseudoscientific claims about “industrial-strength WiFi”.  Not a double-blind test in sight.

    Did I mention that the school sits next to a GE/Hitachi plant that manufacturers parts and fuel for nuclear reactors?

    I’ve seen it happen with wind power more times than I can count, or with garbage incineration, or with freaking laundry-lines in back yards.  There’s not much point in supposedly being liberal and progressive when, if push comes to shove you act like the worst kind of conservative.

    Smart meters are the solution to energy management and supply issues, and not just for EVs.  Think about it: your appliances communicate with the meter, which communicates with the grid, which ensures that power use never spikes and that we don’t need to build reactors or generators to handle peak demands because those peaks will never occur.  It’s a cheap, simple and sustainable solution, rather like turning your thermostat down would be.

    To a progressive the question of “So what would you prefer?  A smart meter, or a coal or nuke plant?” should be easy to answer, and not this way.  I’m disappointed, but given the wholesale unwillingness of government to make tough choices (and the design of California’s political systems to make those kinds of choices almost impossible to make) I’m wholly unsurprised.

    • 0 avatar

      I would like a smart meter AND a nuke plant.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s just tinfoil-hat B/S from people who fear anything they don’t understand.
      PG&E installed a smart meter in my house about six months ago and I haven’t noticed any uptick in headaches or dead birds around the property (the cat has gone a little loopy, but I’d attribute that more to the fact that she’s 18).
      You can hardly spit in Marin county without hitting a Starbucks (or a more exclusive establishment) offering Wi-Fi. My guess is the board of supervisors is full of grumpy old men who don’t want workmen tinkering in their house, or lonely old women who look forward to the meter reader visiting once a month.

    • 0 avatar

      Cape Wind certainly suffered with this sort of thing for nine years, thwarted as it was not just by coast dwellers on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vinyard, and Nantucket, many of whom were probably liberal, but Ted Kennedy, JOhn F. Kerry, and some of our congresspeople (as well as Mitt Romney and some repubs, but that opposition should have been expected. I’m not exactly sanguine about the future of EVs, and I don’t think the feds should subsidize them to the tune of 7 Gs, money that could probably result in much greater carbon reductions elsewhere, but I do think smart meters are a great idea.

    • 0 avatar

      >>There’s not much point in supposedly being liberal and progressive when, if push comes to shove you act like the worst kind of conservative.<<

      You have a highly inflated idea of what being a “liberal and progressive” is.  Most people consider such labels pejoratives. Even lib pols by their behavior, so many try to deny the designation.

      Every study has shown that the alleged “heartless” conservatives are much more charitable when it comes to actually giving to charities.  Libs like to spend other peoples’ money via  government.  That’s their idea of “compassion”, i.e., spending other people’s money to make themselves feel good.

      It’s bizarre thinking, but see “Kennedy” et al.

  • avatar

    Yes, so they will still be driving v-12 BMW’s when the poor are burning furniture to stay alive. And they will still be lording their superiority over the rest of mankind. What makes them any different from any other elite in the history of civilization? Their mode of expression?

    • 0 avatar

      “Yes, so they will still be driving v-12 BMW’s when the poor are burning furniture to stay alive.” bodegabob: if you are referring to “they” as so-called “progressives” or “liberals”, I agree. After all, the first thing singer/songwriter John Denver did during the early 1970’s energy crisis was to install a huge gasoline reserve tank on his property. Fear of having to take the bus, I guess. To be fair, the “other side” is just as hypocritical!

      Sorry, psar, I respect your viewpoint in theory, but that’s what it is – a theory, because while you and I might be perfectly willing to make certain sacrifices and accept infrastructural changes for the betterment of the planet and mankind, there are just as many, even those that tacitly agree, they aren’t willing to. Everyone has their own threshold of what “sacrifice” means to them. I carry no political label of any sort, but do have a very high set of rules and values that I live by, but that’s not for this blog.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Well, it could be worse.  The DC suburb of Takoma Park proudly proclaims that it is a “nuclear-free zone.”
    The unfortunate thing about this is that “smart grid” is not only about intelligent load management (to maximize the efficiency of the grid and generating systems), but some really nifty things are possible . . . such as EVs being used to load-shift.  Let’s assume that a more enlightened Marin County resident, driving his Fisker Karma into work every day across the Golden Gate Bridge to his office in downtown SFO uses roughly 1/3 of his battery’s capacity to make the round trip.  That means that his car, sitting in the garage of his office building could dump 1/2 of its unused battery capacity into the grid during peak daylight hours . . . with a comfortable reserve left to get home . . . where the car could be fully recharged during off-peak hours at night.  What’s more, the owner of this car could be paid by the power company for delivering that juice into the grid when its needed.
    Of course, at the income levels of the average Marin County resident, these payments no doubt would be trivial . . . but maybe it would help if the power company awarded him a special bumper sticker that read, “I gave at the office” and had a picture of a little lightning bolt.

    • 0 avatar


      If it takes 1/3 of a battery to make the trip into town and you give 1/2 of it to the grid then you have used 5/6 of your battery.  That leaves only 1/6 left to power your car.  Now I know the imaginary Fisker is a plug in and has ice backup so you won’t stall out but you will use extra fuel to get home. 

    • 0 avatar

      Yes but we also have to keep in mind all that cycling of the battery (dumping power back into the grid before or after recharging) has a cost too in terms of wear.
      I don’t really care how much they pay me (10-20 cents per kWh) it’s not likely to offset the cost of my battery wearing out sooner.
      If the power grid wants to get smarter then it will incorporate alot more solar which generally speaking makes most of it’s power on hot summer afternoons when the a/c is cranked up in our homes and businesses.
      My idea of smart grid is telling my home to let the interior temp rise 5 degrees because the grid is overloaded or telling an office building to turn off 30% of it’s interior lighting (dimmer but not dark) when it is especially bright inside or when the grid is overloaded again. It’s about telling my car not to recharge until after 10PM as people begin sleeping and the grid load decreases. It’s about surplus power being dumped into EVs right then b/c there is excess wind or excess solar power.
      Perhaps the electric companies would consider generating hydrogen gases with surplus night time electric power to burn during the day or to run through stationary fuel cell systems which is much more realistic than automotive fuel cell systems at this point in time.
      No, I don’t want anyone cycling my EV’s battery but me. I’m willing to allow my life to be altered a little by smart HVAC or water heaters or smart lighting.

  • avatar

    “but again, knowing Marin County, the county’s numerous rural mansions are probably a huge part of its potential base of EV support.”

    I doubt that the residents of those homes will be much bothered by the loss of discounted electric rates for off-peak charging of their EVs. As is often noted on this site, one can’t make the decision to drive an EV on a purely economic basis.

  • avatar

    Nothing more amusing than when progressive panacea’s collide with progressive parochialism.  There are many things that you will find that rich elitist liberals are theoretically for, until you intend to put them into practice in their back yard. 

    • 0 avatar

      Rather a bit like the conservatives who howl for cutbacks to government services, except for the ones they happen to make use of.
      Ideology and hypocrisy collide in the most amusing ways.

  • avatar

    Dumb-ass Luddites can be rich/poor, progressive/conservative. It’s not a major surprise.

  • avatar

    Ontario’s had smart meters now for several years. Nothing negative has happened, except the hydro bills have gone down… ooooh, scary….

  • avatar

    Unions have tried to stop virtually every privately funded large scale solar project in CA by filing “environmental” objections until the companies give in to unionization.  Then the “environmental” concerns go away. Here’s one NYTimes story:
    Here’s more:

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    If we adopt smart grids, it will be used an excuse to block the building of generating capacity of any type. If the wind mills don’t produce electricity, so what? We will just use the smart grid technology to go around your house and turn off your HVAC, your television, and your lights, in order to spare the grid which no longer carries enough power because they have decreed my reliance on solar power (I live in a town with 72 clear days a year) and wind (class 1 wind around here).

    Second, the smart grid is a new avenue for government intrusion into our lives. Members of “minority” groups will claim that any action to cut power to their neighborhoods is racism. Power cuts to the districts that vote the right way will be rarer than hen’s teeth. Don’t bother to buy a new refrigerator if you live in a district that votes the wrong way.
    Non-union factories won’t get electricity, but Government Motors will have all they need. But wait, there is more. Too fat? No electricity for your kitchen. Want to stay up late. Sorry, lights are out at 10 p.m. in this town.
    I will support smart grids, after Washington is run by honest politicians.

    • 0 avatar

      Truly frightening.

    • 0 avatar
      Mark out West

      Actually, the utilities are more frightened of you than you should be of the government.  They’re scared witless you’ll hack their process control IP networks and run some virus back up the line to their demand management computers.

      Remember STUXNet?

    • 0 avatar

      Nah – I spent three years in southern Italy with unreliable power and water. The power flickered all the time. Some days it would be off all day. This wasn’t common but it happened. We never knew why b/c we didn’t know where to ask why the power was off. In the summer it was explained to me that some farmers would choose to water their fields so much with stolen water that there was no water pressure or in some cases no water at all for the neighborhoods. I lived about 30 miles north of Naples.
      The locals adapted. The gov’t was broken so they weren’t enforcing what they were supposed to – like searching out the farmers stealing water.
      Folks built houses with water cisterns and pumps. When I turned on my faucet if I heard the pump come on then I knew the neighborhood water was off. When the neighborhood water came back on the cistern would automatically refill. When we had no neighborhood water we would skip laundry (take it to the coin wash near work), and take very short showers. Plenty of water to cook with, wash dishes, and flush toilets for days.
      That was twenty years ago. If this were to happen here we’d put in a cistern here too. If the power was irregular then we’d be looking at solar plus batteries. At least enough to run our entertainment, lights and the things like the vacuum. As for the fridge – if things was that uncertain we’d have a 3-way fridge – something that runs on DC, AC and propane. There are several to choose form. Lehman’s sells stuff like this.
      I want to always have electricity and water but if things in my state takes a weird turn for the worse we’ll adapt. If these kinds of problems are long term then we elect people who can fix them. If they can’t – resources are that slim for some reason – then we quit spending money on stuff and we spend more money on living. I half expect this to happen in my lifetime as our consumption patterns outrun our resources to the point where we simply can’t afford alot of resources or we run out of stuff we currently take for granted.
      One thing is for sure – I don’t want to live in a ruined world just to have cheap stuff. We’ve already seen plenty of mtn top removals just to get coal cheap. I’d rather adapt to expensive electricity than look out across a ruined region.

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