San Francisco resists PG&E SmartMeters as it deploys its own devices 

PG&E is encountering widespread resistance to its deployment of SmartMeters, but The City has quietly installed 29,000 “smart” water meters during the past year with little controversy.  

So far, only 13 customers have asked the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to refrain from replacing the manual meter, mostly out of fear of exposure to radio frequency transmissions. Officials say the $62 million installation project that began in June is on track, and 178,000 digital meters will be installed by the end of 2012.

“We did a lot of testing beforehand,” SFPUC spokeswoman Suzanne Gautier. “It’s been very successful.”

The quiet deployment stands in sharp contrast to the opposition PG&E has encountered while installing SmartMeters across the state.

Fears about billing inaccuracies and the meters’ potential health hazards have sparked several protests. In response, state regulators launched an investigation and have ordered the utility company to offer an opt-out program, which it will present today.

“We’re happy to do it,” PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno said. “We want to make our customers happy.”

Gautier did not know whether The City would be able to come up with alternatives to its own new meters, but said the SFPUC wants to work with people who are afraid of them.

PG&E has installed 45,000 SmartMeters for electricity and 53,000 for gas in The City since December, the same month state regulators rejected City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s petition for a moratorium on installation, which focused on complaints about inaccurate billing.

Herrera’s request did not ask to suspend installation of The City’s own meters, even though they are manufactured by the same Missouri company, Aclara RF Systems Inc.

“I think it was well-known that there was a lot of dissatisfaction with PG&E,” Deputy City Attorney Theresa Mueller said. “We didn’t receive any such complaints in regard to the SFPUC.”

Joshua Hart, the director of the group Stop Smart Meters, said the SFPUC has gone about its program “stealthily.”

Data from PG&E and The City show the frequency of the radio waves transmitted by PG&E’s SmartMeters is significantly higher than that transmitted by San Francisco’s new water meters. The length of transmission time is much longer, too.

PG&E’s meters can transmit at up to 2,400 megahertz for an average of 45 seconds intermittently throughout the day, documents show, while SFPUC data indicates its meters transmit at up to 467.4 MHz for 0.08 seconds four times per day.

By contrast, a microwave oven operates at 2,450 MHz, according to a report by the California Council on Science and Technology, and a cellphone transmits at between 900 and 1,800 MHz. Gautier said people voluntarily expose themselves to such transmissions several times a day.

“People are often afraid of what they can’t control,” Gautier said. “This is an opportunity to have more control.”

The people who use SmartMeters for both their power and water consumption should eventually have access to an accurate hourly breakdown of their usage. The City is working on offering email alerts to property owners whose bills are unusual. It also will be able to note if water is running at an odd hour, which could help detect leaks.

Meter opt-out likely to be OK’d

State regulators today are expected to mandate that PG&E and other electric companies provide consumers with an option to decline the installation of an advanced meter, but probably at the client’s cost.

Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D–Marin, introduced AB 37 in December. It would require utility companies to come up with an alternative, after San Francisco and other cities requested a moratorium on so-called smart meters. The staff of the California Public Utilities Commission has suggested amendments to the bill to authorize the commission to determine the cost that consumers would pay if they chose to opt out of smart meter installation.

But despite the request of a growing number of city governments from across California, the staff is not recommending imposition of a moratorium because an army of smart meters will already be deployed by the time the bill passes.

Meanwhile, people who support the suspension are expected to testify during the 9 a.m. meeting at 505 Van Ness Ave.

kkelkar@sfexaminer.com

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Kamala Kelkar

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