Some customers angered by SmartMeter opt-out plan

Photo: Phoebe Sorgen refuses to have PG&E install SmartMeters at her residence.
Firke-Selam Habebo/Photo
Phoebe Sorgen refuses to have PG&E install SmartMeters at her residence.

PG&E's opt-out proposal »

Read PG&E's SmartMeter opt-out proposal released March 24

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After being directed to create a SmartMeter opt-out proposal by the California Public Utilities Commission early last month, PG&E released a proposal that has angered customers who are frustrated with the high costs of disabling the meters, considering that they never gave their consent for installation.

The opt-out proposal, which was released March 24, allows customers to disable the radios inside their gas or electric meters with the option of either paying a $135 up-front fee followed by a $20 monthly charge or a $270 up-front fee followed by a $14 monthly charge to cover the costs of implementing the program, which involves sending workers to manually read meters. The proposal allows low-income customers to pay approximately 20 percent less.

Some customers have said that being charged to have their meters turned off is unfair and too expensive, with some suggesting cheaper alternatives to PG&E's current proposal.

"They want $18 million to communicate readings to customers," said Marcel Hawiger, staff attorney for The Utility Reform Network, an organization that advocates for utility consumer rights. "(We) will definitely participate in proceedings with the CPUC to search for lower cost alternatives for the opt-out proposal."

According to commission spokesperson Christopher Chow, representatives from consumer organizations can express interest in the proceedings within 30 days of the proposal's release. A pre-hearing conference will convene to schedule all proceedings for each filed complaint immediately after all customer protests have been filed. The commission will then schedule a final vote on the proposal, which is projected to occur in mid-September.

Since PG&E started installing the meters, which wirelessly transmit energy consumption use data to the agency, Berkeley residents have raised concerns about the possible health effects that may stem from electrical interference with medical devices such as pace makers and defibrillators, according to Marti Kheel, a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley's Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management.

"The overall proposal is punishing people who are suffering terrible health problems with no investigation," said Berkeley resident Lloyd Morgan, a retired electrical engineer. "At every single CPUC meeting, scores of people are providing documentation about health problems."

Though the agency's opt-out proposal has been contested by many residents, PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith said the company is willing to work with anyone who has issues with the SmartMeters but could not comment on the policy until the CPUC approves the proposal.

"If we hear from a customer, we work with them to provide as much information as possible," Smith said. "There has always been a benefit for customers to go online and see how they consume energy."

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