Smart meters expected to lower energy bill

August 15, 2008 12:15:10 AM PDT
If you live in San Francisco, get ready for new electric meters that are supposed to lower your energy bill, but not everyone thinks that is going to happen. A study on this will be released on Friday.

ABC7 has learned that the report will be critical of PG&E's plan to upgrade old meters with technology that uses radio waves to record customer's energy usage and allows the utility to turn your power off and on by remote control when the need arises.

Old-fashioned dials at Lubov Bremer's house are set to be replaced by so-called smart meters which emit a radio wave so PG&E doesn't have to send out meter readers to calculate the power bill.

"Maybe in the long run it's good from one point of view. You don't have to worry about keeping the door open for the PGE man," says Bremer, a PG&E customer.

Still, there is a big and expensive downside to the smart meters according to Aaron Peskin, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. On Friday, the board will get the results of a city study on PG&E's plan to upgrade residential electric meters.

"In layman's terms, the report is going to say there is much better, more effective technology that is available in the market today," says Peskin.

PG&E says the smart meters are cost-effective and highly efficient. Customers would be able to track their daily power usage and use that information to choose a cheaper energy plan.

"And you're willing to shift what little you might consume in the peak times to the overnight hours, we'd be able to give you a better rate in the overnight hours when electricity is less expensive for us," says Andrew Tang, from PG&E.

Mark Toney of the consumer group The Utility Reform Network, or TURN, disputes that.

"It simply encourages people to shift usage from one time of day to another time of day. So it does not result in energy savings," says Toney.

Supervisor Peskin fears that consumers will have to pay $340 dollars to replace their old meters, only to be billed again when PG&E upgrades the smart meters at some later time.

"Technology is available that PG&E should be using is true two-way technology where you can get real time information about your electricity consumption. A consumer would actually have the ability to ramp down the amount of their consumption," says Peskin.

PG&E insists the smart meter program will pay for itself and will help customers save money in the long run. PG&E plans to start installing the new meters in San Francisco this fall while it waits for a ruling from the PUC on whether the utility can spend an extra 600 million dollars in ratepayer money to upgrade the system. If it loses, PG&E says it will not be able to install more advanced two-way smart meters.


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