It is new technology, but is it ready for the home? PG&E says that SmartMeters work, but that is not exactly what was said about them in Sacramento.
They call them SmartMeters because they provide hourly readings of power use. It is a means to conserve power according to the state Public Utilities Commission. Except about 1,000 PG&E customers complain they have seen their utility bills increase dramatically.
"We follow up on every complaint that we get," said PUC president Michael Peevey.
When things started going south, Peevey promised a third-party independent investigation. However, he admitted to a joint utilities committee that was five months ago.
"I wish I was here today to tell you that we'd picked the contractor, we did pick a contractor. Unfortunately, the contractor refused to sign the agreement with the PUC," said Peevey.
So now they are negotiating with their No. 2 choice and they may have an agreement by the end of next week.
Senator Dean Florez, D-Shafter, represents Kern County where there have been SmartMeter complaints. He also raised a bigger issue.
"Why wouldn't we have waited to do the third-party investigation or third-party evaluation first and then roll these out?" asked Florez.
It was difficult to answer, Peevey said because PG&E wanted to go first using meters that were unproven.
"They said 'We'll be the first ones, we're ready to go. We'll take the off-the-shelf meter.' Some people said maybe it ought to be more advanced than what you're doing. They said 'No, we'd like to try this.' Eventually, we said 'Go ahead and try it.' It turned out to have been a mistake," said Peevey.
PG&E came back for more money for other meters -- $500 million. That is a mistake that some rate players are claiming is costing them more in their monthly bill.
When asked who paid for that mistake, Peevey simply replied, "The people. The rate payers."
The plan is to have 17 million SmartMeters on 17 million homes by the end of 2012. It will also take at least six months for that third-party investigation to take place.