SmartMeter investigation under scrutiny

September 16, 2010 7:40:48 PM PDT
The merits of a state investigation into SmartMeters is under scrutiny after some question the rigorousness of the investigation and some of its conclusions.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez scheduled a hearing on the report, but postponed it so PG&E could deal with the aftermath of the San Bruno explosion. 7 On Your Side has read the entire report, and posed questions to two Bay Area scientists.

Bill Wattenburg is a doctor of electrical engineering and a talk show host on KGO Radio and James Sweeney is an engineering professor at Stanford and director of the Precourt Institute for Energy Efficiency.

"It gives very significant evidence that the smart meters are more accurate than the mechanical or the electrical mechanical meters that they replaced," Sweeney said.

The five-month long investigation by the Structure Group concluded smart meters are accurate, but blasted PG&E for poor customer service.

Despite their opposing views about the merits of the report, the two scientists we talked to are critical of what the report did not do.

"They did not test the complete accuracy of the communications linkage back there so that probably is going to need further investigation," Sweeney said.

That communication system relays the energy usage data collected by SmartMeters back to PG&E via a communications module.

PG&E admitted in April that 20,000 of its meters had communications issues and data was not being relayed back to the utility correctly.

"Knowing that PG&E had already communicated those errors to the commission and those errors were being addressed, we did not do a detailed review of all those areas," Stacey Wood from Structure Group said.

Sweeney and Wattenburg are also skeptical that so many sudden surges in electricity use readings by SmartMeters are being blamed on under readings by the old analog meters.

Investigators from structure interviewed 20 PG&E customers with high bill complaints and concluded nine of those high bills could potentially be blamed on inaccurately low readings from old analog meters.

"I don't think systematically of a lot of the complaints would have been associated with degradation of the old electromagnetic meters because that degradation is probably not a very high percentage," Sweeney said.

"When you read this report, there isn't a single mention of a valid customer complaint. It's all blamed on the customers, the weather, billing misunderstandings. It's nonsense," Wattenburg said.

Florez is expected to reschedule the hearing for sometime next month.


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