Meters may not be smart move

A plan by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to equip homes with so-called smart meters should be put off until the gadgets are proven to save money for ratepayers and be safe for the environment, a city report released Thursday said.

The high-tech electric meters, which would provide electricity-usage information to both the provider and consumer as it occurs, give companies such as PG&E the ability to adjust power output based on demand. Consumers would also be able to monitor energy use during peak periods, when electricity is more expensive.

The energy giant’s plan, which would cost more than $2 billion, would have installed more than five million meters at customers’ homes throughout the Bay Area — at an increased cost to ratepayers. The report, compiled by SF Environment and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, recommends the company instead employ a pilot program of 300,000 to 500,000 test homes.

But the San Francisco study echoes the criticism of reports across the country on smart meters, which say the meters’ savings don’t outweigh the costs. Residents of Bakersfield reported a sharp increase in their power bills after adopting smart meters, the report found.

PG&E’s proposal to roll out a program only proven in a handful of previous test programs presents a “high level of technical risk,” the report read, and wireless networks in customers’ homes that would link to the meters were called “risky and unreliable.”

The meters have also become a touchy subject for San Francisco politicians. The report will most likely shape policy decisions at the Board of Supervisors, where conversations about smart meters have gone through several twists since May, when Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier introduced legislation that would have brought the smart meters to San Francisco.

Alioto-Pier had allegedly been in talks with Assemblymember Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, before introducing the legislation. It has been reported that Ma is dating Patrick Koch, whose company — Current Grid — sells the smart meters.

Ma’s chief of staff, Bill Barnes, said Thursday that the assemblywoman was the target of personal attacks and never did anything wrong. Nevertheless, she has since “taken a step back from it,” he said.

PG&E did not return calls for comment on this report.

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

Smart meters?

Key findings of a study on smart meters in a report compiled by SF Environment and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

  • Smart meters do not reduce customers’ electricity usage.
  • It is difficult to predict cost and impact of the new technology.
  • Wireless networks with which customers link their homes to the meters are risky and unreliable.
  • PG&E plan does not consider consumer costs for home displays such as thermostats, which could be high.

Source: SF Environment, SFPUC

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