Not a 'smart' move

It's wrong that it took this much time for PG&E to come up with an opt-out plan, especially one this expensive.

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When the SmartMeter program was announced approximately a year ago, our strongest concern was that the program was mandatory for California PG&E customers. While we are reassured that the company has finally proposed an option for residents who wish to opt out of the program - whether out of health fears or any other reason - the significant cost of that option seems unjustifiably steep.

The SmartMeter program was created to help residents better understand their energy and gas consumption by making usage information available in 15-minute increments for commercial usage and in hourly increments for residential usage, with data from the meters being wirelessly transmitted to the company's website rather than being read manually.

Rather than moving ahead with the program and imposing it on all customers, PG&E should have anticipated resident resistance and designed the program in such a way to accommodate people who wanted to opt out. Customers should not be saddled with a severe financial burden because a company did not do enough research beforehand.

The current proposal would give two choices to residents who want to opt out: a $135 up-front fee followed by a $20 monthly charge or a $270 up-front fee followed by a $14 monthly charge, with low-income customers paying less. It's only fair for residents who choose to opt out of the program to pay more for the privilege - both to pay for the program and to compensate the utility for the costs of manually reading their meters - but the steep cost of both these options is unpalatable.

While we realize that the $2.2 billion program must recoup revenue lost on people without the SmartMeters, people should not be discouraged from opting out of a program they had no choice about joining in the first place with significant financial penalties.

The SmartMeter program was piloted in 2006, and installation began in Berkeley last January. That it took all this time to come up with an opt-out plan is inexcusable.

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