Smart meters come under fire

The installation of new digital “smart” meters for measuring gas and electricity has resulted in customer confusion and frustration across the state, prompting a class-action lawsuit and calls for a moratorium on the PG&E devices.

SmartMeters are currently being installed throughout the Bay Area. Large portions of Peninsula cities are scheduled to have their standard meters replaced by the end of 2010, according to PG&E’s deployment schedule. The rollout is slated to start in San Francisco in September.

The technology allows for two-way communication between the utility company and a meter, meaning usage information is now sent digitally to PG&E without the assistance of a meter reader.

The devices also allow individual consumers to track their energy usage online. According to PG&E, allowing customers to see how much gas and electricity they are using, and when their use is highest, will encourage changes intended to reduce energy use.

There have been widespread complaints, however, that consumers have seen higher bills after the SmartMeters were installed and that the devices are not accurate. On Friday, the California Public Utilities Commission agreed that the hiring of an independent consultant to test the meters was warranted in light of the concerns.

State Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez, D-Shafter, hand-delivered a request to the CPUC to place a moratorium on the meters and rate hikes until problems with the technology are resolved. The decision came in the wake of a lawsuit against PG&E filed in Bakersfield from a customer who said he’s being overcharged.

PG&E officials, however, say the confusion and complaints about higher bills is the result of increases to rate and energy usage.

“If you run an air conditioner … it takes more energy,” PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno told The Examiner. “The meters are accurate.”

The Utility Reform Network, a San Francisco-based ratepayer advocacy group, was among those who asked the California Public Utilities Commission to stop installation of the meters until problems are resolved, said Mindy Spatt, a spokeswoman for the organization.

Installation of the SmartMeters was approved by the utilities commission two years ago, Moreno said. The total cost is $2.2 billion.

New utility gadgets

SmartMeters are being installed throughout the Bay Area.

Deployment
City/schedule
Daly City  8/08-12/09
South City  8/08-12/09
San Mateo  12/08-4/10
Redwood City  12/08-4/10
Burlingame  12/08-4/10
San Francisco  9/10-3/12

Source: PG&E

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

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