Monday, June 21, 2010

Post # 24 - More Problems For PG&E? San Francisco Seeks Smart Meter Moratorium

Pending an investigation by the California Public Utilities Commission, the City Attorney of San Francisco is trying to prevent Pacific Gas & Electric from installing any more smart meters.

As discussed in prior posts, PG&E has been installing smart meters in northern California since late 2006 – approximately 5 million to date. But the road has not been smooth – there have been loud and recurring consumer complaints of meter inaccuracy and overcharging. See Post Nos. 6, 8, 13, 15, 16.

In response, the CPUC last March launched an investigation into PG&E’s smart meter roll out, citing about 600 complaints in the PG&E service area since January 2009 (compared to 10 in Southern California Edison's service area and 15 in the San Diego Gas and Electric Company's service area). See Post No. 8. The CPUC's investigation remains pending, with results expected later this summer.

Last Thursday, however, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera petitioned the CPUC to halt further PG&E smart meter installation until the CPUC completes the investigation. In a companion statement, Herrera asserts that “common sense should argue against installing millions of defective [smart meters] until their problems are fixed, and questions about their accuracy are fully resolved."

PG&E had previously apologized for problems with its smart meters, but argued that those errors have been rectified and that millions of smart meters have been installed without any reported problems. See Post No. 16. With respect to Herrera’s petition, PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith said that "we do not believe a moratorium (on installing the meters) is necessary, and the California Public Utilities Commission has agreed with us." Smith also said that smart meter technology "is already in place and working well around the world, with many different kinds of utilities." Moreover, he added, San Francisco is using the same technology for the city's water meters as PG&E does for gas meters. Smith argues that “by continuing those installations, [PG&E] will provide our customers in San Francisco with many benefits and allow them greater control over their energy."

But Herrera contends that the potential benefits of smart meters do not outweigh the risk of inaccuracies and overcharges to customers. "Receiving a timely and correct bill from PG&E is the least a customer is entitled to expect, Customers should not be in the position of wondering whether their bills are accurate or whether the equipment installed by PG&E is working properly."

Herrera’s petition apparently makes San Francisco the first city in PG&E's service territory to formally petition the CPUC to halt the program. But in an editorial this morning, the San Francisco Chronicle called on PG&E to suspend further smart meter installations until the CPUC investigation is complete – and urged other city attorney to support the Herrera petition.

To read more about the Herrera petition and PG&E’s response, see here, here, and here. The ball, once again, is in the CPUC's court.

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