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City attorney asks state commission to halt PG&E SmartMeter installations

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San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera asked a state commission Thursday to halt PG&E’s SmartMeter program until an investigation into the accuracy of the meters is complete.

Herrera is asking the California Public Utilities Commission to suspend its authorization for PG&E to install the SmartMeters, which are advanced utility meters that wirelessly communicate usage information to customers and utility companies.

Since PG&E began installing the meters throughout the state in November 2006, the CPUC, PG&E and various consumer advocacy groups have received numerous complaints about overcharging and other concerns.

In March, the CPUC launched an investigation into the program, citing about 600 complaints in the PG&E service area since January 2009, compared to 10 in Edison’s service area in Southern California and 15 in the San Diego Gas and Electric Company’s service area.

Herrera said in a statement Thursday, “Common sense should argue against installing millions of defective SmartMeters until their problems are fixed, and questions about their accuracy are fully resolved.”

San Francisco is the first city in PG&E’s service area to formally petition the CPUC to halt the program, according to the City Attorney’s Office.

The utility company apologized in May for problems with the SmartMeter program, acknowledging that tens of thousands of customers have been affected by faulty meters, many of which had a piece of equipment called a “gas module” that was incorrectly installed, resulting in an incorrect gas bill.

However, PG&E officials argued that those errors had been rectified, and that millions of the meters have been installed without any reported problems.

The company has installed about 5.8 million SmartMeters, and plans to install another 3.9 million.

PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith said Thursday that “we do not believe a moratorium [on installing the meters] is necessary, and the California Public Utilities Commission has agreed with us.”

Smith said, “This kind of technology is already in place and working well around the world, with many different kinds of utilities,” and added that San Francisco is using the same technology for The City’s water meters as PG&E does for gas meters.

“We believe by continuing those installations, we will provide our customers in San Francisco with many benefits and allow them greater control over their energy,” he said.

But Herrera’s petition argued that the benefits of the greater control the SmartMeters provide do not outweigh the risk of inaccuracies and overcharges to customers.

“Receiving a timely and correct bill from PG&E is the least a customer is entitled to expect,” Herrera said in the petition. “Customers should not be in the position of wondering whether their bills are accurate or whether the equipment installed by PG&E is working properly.”

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