No sooner had the furor over a cellphone antenna died down than Ashland City Council meetings became a forum for fears about so-called "smart" electric meters the city wants to install to save money.

No sooner had the furor over a cellphone antenna died down than Ashland City Council meetings became a forum for fears about so-called "smart" electric meters the city wants to install to save money.

Once again, this is a case of a few people stoking fears about the alleged health effects of radio waves with no hard evidence to back up their claims. Only this time, they may have succeeded in getting everyone else to subsidize their peace of mind.

The city's electric utility wants to install meters that transmit each home's electrical usage, saving the city the cost of sending a meter reader into everyone's backyard. Ultimately, smart meters are planned to be part of the movement toward "smart grid" technology that will enable utilities to monitor and trim power consumption during peak usage times.

Some residents don't want these meters installed on their property. They say radio frequency emissions can cause headaches, fatigue and other health effects.

Research into those supposed health effects has found no evidence that smart meters are harmful in any way. Last year, the California Council on Science and Technology issued a report saying there are no documented cases of adverse health effects from smart meters. In fact, the emissions they give off are many times weaker than those produced by cellphones, microwave ovens and cordless phones — which are present in nearly all homes these days. It's a fair bet that most, if not all, those residents objecting to smart meters use a cellphone, a microwave oven or a cordless phone on a daily basis. Also, electric meters are installed on the outside of homes and transmit away from them, meaning any potential risk is diminished even further.

That's not to say that residents aren't entitled to raise concerns about what kind of equipment is installed on their homes. The question is, who should pay?

The Ashland City Council on Tuesday heard from residents who are convinced the new meters pose a threat and want the option to keep their old meters. The council for the second time decided to allow residents to opt out of the smart meter system without charge.

If allowing residents to opt out cost nothing, we would have no objection. But here's the rub: City staff members told the council the no-fee opt-out policy could cost the city $12,000 to $150,000 a year.

If those opting out are not required to pay for that cost, rates for every power customer in Ashland could go up to cover the expense. It's simply not fair that the majority of electrical customers should have to pay more to allay the fears of a few of their neighbors.