There was such a public outcry against PG&E's SmartMeter program that last year, the California Public Utilities Commission ordered the utility to come up with an opt-out option. But getting there has been an excruciating legal process.
The point of Wednesday's workshop was to explore the feasibility of different opt-out options. Most of the opposition to SmartMeters has come from people who say radio frequency transmissions make them sick.
PG&E's preferred option is to install the SmartMeter, but turn off the radio transmitter. Its proposal includes charging opt-out customers one upfront fee of $270, with a monthly charge of $14, or a lower upfront fee of $135 with a higher monthly charge of $20.
PG&E says the fees would cover the costs of dispatching meter readers, rather than collecting usage data through the wireless network.
"The whole idea of charging people extra after they've already been charged extra increases in their utility rates to opt out of this program is absolutely absurd and illegal, it's like charging disabled people to access to a wheelchair ramp," StopSmartmeters.org spokesperson Josh Hart said.
Utility watchdog TURN says it was disappointed with Wednesday's workshop and that it will now have to fight to get the information it needs from PG&E.
"One idea is that they can remotely turn off the radio instead of going out manually; they refuse to say how much that would cost and in fact said it would cost about as much as to go out there to turn it off, their vendor is the one who finally admitted it might cost a little less," TURN spokesperson Marcel Hawiger said.
PG&E says its preferred option is truly the only one that is technologically and financially feasible. So far, 8-9 million SmartMeters have been installed and they hope to have all 10 million installed by next year.
Customers can delay installation of a SmartMeter until the CPUC reaches a decision on PG&E's opt-out proposal by calling 877-743-7378.