Delays plague PG&E SmartMeter investigation

March 29, 2010 7:13:13 PM PDT
Pacific Gas & Electric continues to install SmartMeters around Northern California, despite questions about their accuracy. State regulators hoped to have an independent investigation completed by now, but it has not even been started yet. 7 On Your takes a look at new idea for testing meters, and what is behind the delays in the investigation.

More than half of the 10 million SmartMeters PG&E plans to install in the next two years are already up and running, but the California Public Utilities Commission has yet to hire a contractor to test them.

Well over one million more SmartMeters have been put in by PG&E since the CPUC announced its investigation. Since January, the commission says the number of complaints that SmartMeters have led to inaccurate and higher bills has gone from 450 to 600.

"The PUC is dragging its feet while consumers are up in arms," said Mindy Spatt with The Utility Reform Network. "More and more consumers are getting SmartMeters; more and more consumers are hearing that other customers are unhappy with these meters."

The CPUC investigation into SmartMeters is stuck on the launch pad.

  • Oct. 14: The CPUC calls for an independent investigation. It would be nearly two months later before the commission would release its job announcement for a third party investigator.
  • Dec. 22: The commission tells 7 On Your Side the investigation will be completed by March 31.
  • March 8: The CPUC announces it expects to hire an investigator by the end of the week. But three days later, the CPUC says a contract dispute has delayed that hiring.
  • March 15: Commission president Michael Peevey tells the Legislature a company could be hired by March 26. But March 26 passes without an announcement.

7 On Your Side has tried to get an interview with the CPUC since Thursday, but it says it has no aone available to talk.

Meanwhile, calls by The Utility Reform Network for a moratorium on SmartMeter installations have gone unheeded.

"Consumers are looking to the PUC to answer their questions and they're not getting answers," said Spatt.

Chico State researcher, electrical engineer and radio talk show host, Bill Wattenburg, has prepared reports for the California Energy Commission.

"They change your meter. Tell me, what way do you have to verify that the new meter is reading as accurately as the old meter? You don't," he said.

That is why he supports use of a dual meter base insert which allows you to compare readings from the new SmartMeter with the old meter.

"Now you can make a comparison over a period of time of a month or so and see how well the two compare," said Wattenburg. "If they don't, something's wrong."

PG&E maintains its meters are accurate and not the reason for higher bills. It met with Wattenburg on Saturday and says it is considering his proposal.

"With any rollout of this magnitude, you can expect to run into some issues and that's what's going on," said David Eisenhauer with PG&E. "So we want to make sure we hear people's ideas about how we can make sure, insure that the meters are functioning properly."

Wattenburg and others have maintained those tests need to be conducted by an independent investigator. That is something the investigator hired by the CPUC can supposedly do when that hire is finally made.

The CPUC is now saying the investigation will take six months -- twice as long as originally expected.


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