PG&E sets deadline to opt-out of SmartMeters


March 12, 2012 3:50:24 PM PDT
After years of conflict, there's now a way to avoid having PG&E install a SmartMeter at your home, but it will cost you. And, if you don't hurry, they'll install one anyway. The opt-out fees have stirred up a new protest.

PG&E is telling customers they have until May 1 to decide if they want to opt out of having a SmartMeter and if they don't pay up, SmartMeters will be installed by year's end. That has riled some customers who have now launched a petition drive to eliminate the fees.

There were months of protest. There were rancorous hearings. There were even arrests. Finally, there was a concession. Thousands of PG&E customers who don't want wireless SmartMeters can now opt out of having one installed at their homes. "Yes, I want to opt out! Yeah, thank you. You heard me," Voge Smith of Novato says. Folks like Smith were elated, but now she and many are finding out they have to start paying a monthly charge to keep SmartMeters off their property. "It's just sort of like a penalty fee," she says.

PG&E is charging $75 up front plus $10 per month to customers who decline a SmartMeter. The utility estimates 150,000 may opt out. Smith says, "The questtion is what's right about it?" Like thousands of other opponents, She worries the wireless meters emit harmful radio waves and can cause utility bills to spike. She says it's wrong to impose a fee for not getting one. So, she started an online petition asking PG&E to stop charging customers to opt out. Within two weeks she had gathered more than 600 signatures.

"Our meters are safe and there's a wealth of scientific information, studies, and reports," says Greg Snapper wth PG&E. The company insists the meters are both safe and accurate, that radio emissions fall well below federal limits, and that billing is 99 percent reliable. However, after protests grew, the California Public Utilities Commission last year told PG&E to let customers keep their old analog meters if they wish. "We really hope that this opt-out alternative is something they can participate in, so that they can get some relief when it comes to their concerns around wireless technology and SmartMeters," Snapper says.

But the CPUC also approved the fees. "I opted out of having a SmartMeter. I'm not opting in to pay $75," Smith says. She and many who signed her petition complained it's unfair to force customers to pay a fee or live with a device they consider harmful. PG&E says the fees are needed to maintain the old analog system and send out meter readers for the opt-out customers. "Reintroducing analog meters into our system requires certain charges because we have to go in and adjust our I.T.," Snapper explains.

And this month, the utility began pressing customers for a decision. Thousands received a recorded message and a certified letter telling customers to either pay the opt-out fee or let the SmartMeters in. "Today, we have a choice for customers that don't want a SmartMeter," Greg Snapper says. On the other hand Smith says, "There are people out there wanting to fight this and see the injustice of it."

Smith says she will submit her petition to PG&E once she gathers at least 750 signatures. PG&E has not said how it might respond. So far, about 9,800 customers have agreed to pay the fee to opt out.

PG&E says customers who indicated they do not want a SmarMeter were placed on a "delay" list. PG&E is notifying those customers they have until May 1 to opt out or PG&E will assume they want a SmartMeter and begin scheduling the installations. However, PG&E says customers may opt out up until the SmartMeter is actually installed. Also, PG&E says it will permit those with SmartMeters to change their minds later and opt for an analog meter.

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