PG&E Works on SmartMeter Opt-Out Plan

Photo: SmartMeters installed by PG&E have been the source of much debate recently. PG&E is working to create a new SmartMeter opt-out policy.
Randy Adam Romero/Photo
SmartMeters installed by PG&E have been the source of much debate recently. PG&E is working to create a new SmartMeter opt-out policy.

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Although the California Public Utilities Commission announced its decision to direct PG&E to create an opt-out option for SmartMeter installation Thursday, some Berkeley residents and other PG&E customers - who have been pushing for a moratorium on meter installation - are apprehensive about the details of the proposal.

The new wireless technology has raised numerous complaints about inaccurate fee increases, an invasion of privacy and negative health effects since PG&E began installing the meters last year. Following the lead of other Bay Area cities, the city of Berkeley wrote a letter to Michael Peevey, president of the commission, in June requesting an opt-out option and further investigation of the device.

"The SmartMeter technology does have some potential uses for saving energy and saving money, but I think there is going to be some improvements to the technology," said Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who sponsored the resolution urging the city to write the letter to the commission.

In a March 10 statement, Peevey said PG&E is being directed to prepare a proposal within two weeks outlining an opt-out process for customers "who object to these devices at reasonable cost, to be paid by the customers who choose to opt-out." According to PG&E spokesperson Paul Moreno, the company has been examining the possibility of an opt-out option and is prepared to file a proposal by March 24.

SmartMeters transmit wireless radio frequency with information about a unit's energy use, which can be tracked by the customer online. Moreno said the meters are operating within the standards for radio frequencies at one-seventieth of the limit set by the Federal Communications Commission.

"Meters are safe, they're accurate, but nonetheless we've been directed to come up with a proposal for an opt-out provision," he said. "Although the great weight of scientific evidence has shown that SmartMeters are safe, we take our customer concerns seriously."

However, many Bay Area groups and residents say PG&E has offered no proof that the meters are safe and accurate.

Sandi Maurer, founder of EMF Safety Network - a group that raises awareness about radiation - said the constant exposure to radio frequency pulses from the meters resulted in physical ailments, including headaches, heart palpitations, ringing in the ears and lack of sleep.

"We're asking for a moratorium because they have never done a study to show that the meters were safe," she said.

Mindy Spatt, communications director for the Utility Reform Network, said PG&E rushed into using the technology before addressing customer concerns about the affordability of installation and customer security.

"This puts an enormous amount of personal data online, and in this day in age, that makes it vulnerable," Spatt said, adding that hackers in the system can find out whether somebody is home by looking at their energy use.

She added that she is concerned about the price of the opt-out privilege, as well as the discrepancy between the bills based on analog readings and those from SmartMeter readings.

Berkeley resident Phoebe Sorgen, who placed "Do Not Install" signs around her house to prevent PG&E from installing the new meters, said the opt-out proposal is a surprise and would be a "good sign for democracy."

"Wireless stupid meters are another example of 'corporatocracy' going against the will of the people," she said.


Contact Kelsey Clark at [email protected]

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