PG&E customers refuse to pay bill over SmartMeter

June 29, 2010 9:13:22 AM PDT
A small but determined group of protestors is saying an emphatic "no" to PG&E's new SmartMeters. Nearly 1,500 customers have filed formal complaints and a growing number of them are becoming increasingly vocal.

Vera Sokolova and her husband Alexei Kaiharovsky of Mountain View have refused to pay the disputed amount of their PG&E bill.

"Yes, I'm actually almost taking risk to shut down my services by not paying full amount of this bill," Alexei told 7 On Your Side.

Sandra Benson of Concord refused to allow a PG&E crew to install a second SmartMeter on her home.

"I'd already had enough trouble with this first one," she said. "I didn't even want to try and have a second one installed."

Both families are part of scattered individual protests taking place in the PG&E service area. Their stories are similar.

"Consumption is going up and up," Vera said.

Vera's electricity usage nearly tripled after getting her SmartMeter and her bill jumped from $80 to $480. PG&E told her there was nothing wrong with her SmartMeter.

"My bill went up without any logic to it," she said.

Sandra had a similar experience when her gas usage doubled right after PG&E put in her SmartMeter.

"I really didn't think anything of it until we got our bill for January services which had gone from $206 to $670," she recalled.

At first, PG&E told her not to pay the disputed bill while it investigated. The utility says it subsequently put her on a four-month payment plan when her bill hit $1,300, but two months into the plan, PG&E sent her a notice threatening to shut off her power.

"So, we immediately just paid the entire bill. I couldn't jeopardize my father's health over this," she said.

Her father, 86-year-old Raymond Burton, suffered an aneurysm three years ago and needs a respirator.

"If they shut the electricity off for 24 hours, I'll die," he said.

7 On Your Side contacted the utility and it apologized, saying it under read the family's gas meter in December and added the charges in January. It also acknowledged it should not have sent the Bensons a shut-off notice.

"We did make mistakes in this, both under reading the meter in December and not putting a payment plan that we had talked to the customer about and said we would do, not putting that in the system, and that is what resulted in the shut-off notice," PG&E spokesman Matt Nauman said.

Sandra remains skeptical, saying her gas bill in December was roughly the same as the year before. She also says the problem started when her SmartMeter was installed, although PG&E now says she only has a SmartMeter for her electricity, not for gas.

"The problem is they've never given us a reasonable explanation," she said. "The only difference that we had in usage was the SmartMeter. Otherwise, everything has been exactly the same."

Like Sandra, Vera and Alexei also received a shut-off notice. They contacted 7 On Your Side and we contacted PG&E. The utility admitted there were two problems with the meter.

"This particular meter has a communication issue. In other words, the data is not transmitting over the wireless network," explained Jeff Smith with PG&E.

PG&E also said the meter was not storing the usage data correctly, but said neither problem would lead to inaccurate billing.

"The communications issues do not impact whether or not the meter measures usage correctly," Smith said. "What the communications issue is indicative of, it's not translating the usage to us, so we have to come and physically read the meter in person."

PG&E has acknowledged it should have told the family about the issue with the meter earlier. It has since pulled out the old meter and sent it to a third-party for testing. It installed a new SmartMeter along with an analog meter and will run them side-by-side to ensure everything is working properly.

"I'm exhausted. I'm exhausted," Vera said.


Load Comments