Pacific Gas & Electric customers concerned about the safety of the utility’s SmartMeters will be able to essentially turn off their new meter’s wireless component—but doing so will come at a price.
Meeting a March 24 deadline set by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), PG&E filed its application to modify its controversial SmartMeter program, allowing customers to elect to have the radio on the meters deactivated. The plan only applies to residential customers.
CPUC President Michael Peevey ordered PG&E to complete the proposal for customers who object to the devices “at a reasonable cost.” But what defines “reasonable” is open for debate.
According to the proposal, opt-out customers not enrolled in low-income programs will face one of two fee schedules: an up-front fee of $135 with a fixed monthly charge of $20, or a one-time fee of $270 and a monthly charge of $14. Low-income assistance program-enrolled customers will receive a 20 percent discount.
PG&E Spokesman Jeff Smith said the fees will compensate for the overall cost of having technicians manually turn off the radios on the meters, sending meter readers to check the meters monthly, additional customer communication costs, and updating the existing network to compensate for “network degradation” resulting from having the radios deactivated.
The utility will also charge an exit fee to opted-out customers to reconnect the radio on their meter when that customer moves out of a residence. Those fees, Smith said, will be determined at the time of move-out, based on current energy rates.
According to PG&E’s application, the utility’s marketing research department estimates that approximately 150,000 customers will choose to opt out.
Criticism of the wireless meters has included fears over potential health consequences from sustained exposure to radio frequency emissions, as well as allegations of overbilling and inaccurate energy usage readings.
Smith said that though radio emissions from the wireless meters comply with standards set by the Federal Communications Commission and the World Health Organization, PG&E wanted to be responsive to its customers’ concerns.
“Basically, this is extortion,” said Sandi Maurer, president and founder of the EMF Safety Network, who has led the campaign against SmartMeter installations. “For PG&E to say that if you don’t want this you will have to pay hundreds of dollars, that discriminates against the poor.”
According to Andrew Kotch, public information officer for the CPUC, parties may file a protest within 30 days. Maurer said the EMF Safety Network plans to do so.
More than 42,200 SmartMeters had been installed in SLO County as of March 29. The utility plans to install more than 131,600 meters countywide.