AS THE smart meter rollout uncovers thousands of cases of dodgy home wiring across Victoria, the Baillieu government has issued a warning to home owners that it is their legal responsibility to maintain the electrical safety of their properties.

This comes as Victoria's Energy and Water Ombudsman Fiona McLeod confirmed she had received almost 300 cases relating to the smart meter rollout since July 2010, including 42 complaints that advanced to an investigation.

More than 3500 Victorian households are facing bills of thousands of dollars to fix dangerous and possibly life-threatening electrical hazards after smart meter installers identified so-called ''customer-side'' defects as part of the $2 billion rollout.

The government was responding to a case before the Ombudsman of Mount Waverley woman Mandy O'Donnell, who lost all power in her house only hours after a smart meter installation in December and now faces a $2400 bill to rewire her 50-year-old home.

The electricity distribution company, United Energy, denies there was any connection between the smart meter installation and loss of power, but did pay to rewire some of her house so she was not left without power. ''They told me it was my responsibility to maintain my wiring,'' Ms O'Donnell said. ''I realise that, but I didn't invite them on my property. My house was fine before the smart meter was installed.''

United Energy's general manager of corporate affairs, Lisa Drought, said customers were thanking installers for picking up unforeseen issues. ''We're installing hundreds of thousands of meters across Victoria and having a qualified installer on people's properties means not only are they installing the meter safely, but they are picking up defects in customers' homes.''

The smart meter rollout began under the former Labor government. It is continuing under the new Baillieu government but is being reviewed. The new meters allow electricity companies to read power use remotely and charge tariffs at different rates throughout the day. With added in-home displays and web programs, the meters will also allow customers to more easily monitor their energy use.

In an interview with The Sunday Age, Ms McLeod said the smart meter installers were not allowed to put in a meter unless the wiring was safe.

''The distributors doing this rollout are unearthing a whole lot of dodgy wiring and customers should know about it and get it fixed for their own safety,'' she said. ''People should be paying attention to the safety of the electrical installation in their homes.''

She said the distribution companies had a range of assistance for customers served with a defect notice. If people felt they could not afford the cost of rewiring, they should first call their distribution company and ask what assistance was available.

Concession card holders should inquire with the Department of Human Services, she said.




A brain tumor, a funeral and a new cell phone study

A week ago today, my friends and I said farewell to a dear friend at a funeral. She died of brain cancer, not a pleasant way to go. She did an amazing job of connecting with her friends throughout her life and was one of the heaviest cell phone users I'd ever met.

Did cell phone use cause her cancer? We'll probably never know.

What does the science say? The weight of the evidence to date indicates that cell phones are safe. But there are some studies that show a slightly higher incidence of glioblastoma, the kind of tumor my friend had, and heavy cell phone use. And her cancer was in the temporal lobe, the area near where most people hold a cell phone while talking.

Earlier this week, another study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association saying that just 50 minutes of cell phone use can change brain metabolism. While it's unclear what effect that has on a person's health, it's interesting that the small amount of radiofrequency put out by a cell phone can alter brain activity.

There was a good report in the New York Times about the study.

I think it's clear that the jury is still out on cell phone safety. We simply don't know enough to say definitively that they are safe to told hold against your face. It could be years before we can answer that. Until then, I think it would be prudent to use a headset or an ear piece. I try never to make calls without my ear piece or putting the phone on speaker and holding it away from my body. I'm shocked at how few people do this.

It would be tragic if a few years from now we discover this devastating brain cancer is on the rise because of cell phones when a simple precaution could have made a difference.



Health risks could switch off home energy meters

The National
Health concerns in the US are creating a backlash against smart meters, which measure electrical usage in homes. Pat Sullivan / AP Photo Storm clouds are gathering over the booming domestic-energy monitoring sector in the US as concern grows that ...


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