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PG&E acknowledges SmartMeter problems

April 26, 2010 7:26:42 PM PDT
There is a startling admission from PG&E about the controversial SmartMeters. The utility has insisted its new meters are accurate, but on Monday they admitted to some problems at a state Senate committee hearing.

PG&E confirmed on Monday that more than 43,000 of its SmartMeters have suffered from various problems. The utility remains insistent however that these problems have had little impact on customers' bills.

The Senate's new Select Committee on the Smart Grid called PG&E's senior vice president of customer relations as its first witness. Helen Burt told the committee only a handful of customers had inaccurate SmartMeters.

"We have found eight meters out of the 5.5 million meters that we installed where there is an issue with the actual meter accuracy," said Burt.

However, under intense questioning from Sen. Dean Florez, D-Kern County, PG&E confirmed there have been other problems. For example, 9,000 of its SmartMeters have not communicated energy usage back to PG&E, more than 11,300 SmartMeters simply failed to work and another 23,000 SmartMeters were installed improperly.

Florez then questioned why PG&E says only eight SmartMeters had accuracy issues.

"This progress report tells me that you have increasing amounts of failure rates in every one of your categories that's going up, whether it's electric meters, whether it's gas meters, you name it," says Florez.

After the hearing, Burt told 7 On Your Side the billing of those the 43,000 SmartMeters could have been impacted.

"The problems sometimes do impact the accuracy of the billing that comes from those meters, but they're not the meter accuracy per se," said Burt.

The Utility Reform Network, or TURN, has been calling for a moratorium on the installation of more SmartMeters until an independent investigation can be completed. It called Monday's testimony by PG&E significant.

"PG&E is finally admitting for the first time that tens of thousands of its meters are not working properly, are not giving proper readings, and there are bills that they have to estimate and this is a really big problem," says Mark Toney from TURN.

PG&E said some customers with SmartMeters have received estimated bills for three months straight because of various issues. However, Burt said the number who received estimated bills was less than customers still using traditional analog meters. PG&E has begun to do side-by-side testing so it can compare the old meters to the new SmartMeters. It also says it will soon leave the old meters installed even after SmartMeters are put in.

"In the summer time, we're going to start keeping our customers' traditional meters so should they have a question, we can go back and test it and know that it was their meter," says Burt.

The executive director of the California Public Utilities Commission says the commission has now received just under 1,000 consumer complaints about SmartMeters. That is up from 600 reported complaints as of March 15.

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