Wireless smart meters and public acceptance: The environment, limited choices, and precautionary politics

David J. Hess, Jonathan S. Coley

Wireless smart meters (WSMs) promise numerous environmental benefits, but they have been installed without full consideration of public acceptance issues. Although societal-implications research and regulatory policy have focused on privacy, security, and accuracy issues, our research indicates that health concerns have played an important role in the public policy debates that have emerged in California. Regulatory bodies do not recognize non-thermal health effects for non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation, but both homeowners and counter-experts have contested the official assurances that WSMs pose no health risks. Similarities and differences with the existing social science literature on mobile phone masts are discussed, as are the broader political implications of framing an alternative policy based on an opt-out choice. The research suggests conditions under which health-oriented precautionary politics can be particularly effective, namely, if there is a mandatory technology, a network of counter-experts, and a broader context of democratic contestation.

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