Protesters demand end to SmartMeter opt-out fees

May 14, 2012 8:31:56 PM PDT
PG&E's shareholders meeting took place in San Francisco Monday. Protestors were there too, armed with petitions opposed to the utility's practice of charging customers to opt out of its SmartMeter program.

They came, they shouted and they delivered nearly 3,000 signatures. But they left wondering if their actions will change anything.

"There's barricades and police, so I'm going to ask very nicely if someone would be gracious enough to receive this," Novato resident Voge Smith said.

Smith started an online petition in February, calling for an end to opt-out fees. Nearly 3,000 customers signed it. Monday, protesters brought the petitions to the PG&E shareholders meeting and tried to get inside.

"We're not looking for trouble, we're just would like PG&E to be gracious enough to accept these petitions from us," Smith said.

Protesters worry the wireless SmartMeters emit harmful radio frequencies. Others say they cause a spike in utility bills.

PG&E is allowing SmartMeter opponents to keep their old analog readers, but it comes at a price: $75 up front, plus $10 per month. Protesters say it's unfair for PG&E to force them to either pay a fee or accept a device they consider harmful.

"This is the tip of the iceberg of the resistance," Santa Cruz resident Joshua Hart said.

PG&E insists the SmartMeters are both safe and reliable, saying radio emissions fall well below federal limits and billing is 99 percent accurate.

While protesters chanted outside, PG&E's new chief executive Tony Earley met reporters inside. He said few customers want to opt out and fees are fair.

"It's like saying everyone get rid of your cellphone because there's a small number of people who don't like cellphones," Earley said. "It would be unfair to charge customers that have SmartMeters the cost of the other system."

PG&E says so far, about 28,000 customers have opted out. The fees will cover the costs of maintaining the old billing system and sending out meter readers.

PG&E did not allow a protest group inside the building, but it finally did allow Smith to enter the lobby alone and hand the petitions to a customer service agent.

"It's my honor to present you this petition asking PG&E to please let us opt out and not pay the fees," Smith said.

We asked PG&E what it will happen to those petitions.

"The petitions are not part of the regulatory process; we do understand they're a statement from our customers of interest and concern and we do want those customers to call us," PG&E spokesperson Greg Snapper said.

"Hopefully someone will be willing to accept the petition, if not I'll keep trying," Smith said.

PG&E did invite SmartMeter opponents to contact PG&E directly and take their case to the California Public Utilities Commission. PG&E promises it will help customers get their voices heard at the PUC.

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