California's largest utility, PG&E, has proposed a plan to give homeowners a choice between smart meters and regular meters. If you're like most consumers, you probably haven't given much thought to your electricity and gas meters. But in California, enough ratepayers have taken exception to new smart meters that regulators have forced the state's largest utility to give homeowners a choice of meters.

The Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PCG) proposed a plan Thursday that will allow residential customers to opt out of getting smart meters or, if they already have smart meters installed, to switch them off.

The plan comes after the utility received complaints from customers concerned that the radio frequency from the wireless meters could make them sick. Although the number of people who've expressed worries about the health impact isn't large, the group has been vocal enough to get the state lawmakers' and regulators' attention.

Earlier this year, The California Council on Science and Technology issued a report concluding that smart meters' radio-frequency emissions pose no known health risks and are lower than less than those from cell phones and microwaves. But the report wasn't enough to calm some people's concerns. So the president of the California Public Utilities Commission asked PG&E to come up with alternatives to smart meters.

What Makes Them Smart?

Unlike regular meters, which typically require utility workers to read them manually every month, so-called smart meters come with electronics that enable them to wirelessly report energy use throughout the day, as well as outages or other problems.

These meters have the potential to benefit both consumers and utilities: They could make it possible for customers to get, say, hourly updates of their energy use and information about how they could cut their electricity and gas use. And the meters could give utilities more information about energy demand and delivery troubles, helping them to manage the grid more efficiently.

The possibilities have attracted many companies, from corporations like General Electric to Silicon Valley startups, that are creating gadgets and software to analyze and display household energy data. But so far, most of the gadgets and software -- some of which can display energy-use information on computers or cell phones -- are too expensive to be affordable for consumers.

PG&E, based in San Francisco, has installed about 8 million smart meters since 2006, when it began rolling them out as part of a $2.2 billion program. Its original goal was to install 10 million by the end of 2012.

The Price of Intelligence

PG&E is hardly the only utility to face resistance from their customers and regulators over smart meters. As many utilities across the country roll out smart meters -- or create plans to do so -- controversy over the meters has cropped up in Maryland, Colorado, Michigan, Hawaii, Indiana and other states.

It's not all about health, either; in many cases, the concern has been about cost. Lawsuits have been filed over the accuracy of the smart meter readings and whether utilities have overcharged their customers.

After all, one of the selling points of smart meters has been the potential energy and cost savings for consumers. But it costs money to install the meters, and utilities typically pass on part of those costs to their customers. In spite of that expense, utilities and smart-meter makers contend that consumers will see lower utility bills over time because they will become more mindful of how much they spend on energy daily.

Some consumers and regulators question whether the savings will really happen, though, particularly if people have to pay close attention to their energy use and change their behavior in order to save money.

Your Options

But with PG&E's proposal, consumers also could be in for higher bills if they opt out of smart meters. For PG&E customers who don't want smart meters but already have them installed, the utility is proposing to turn off the radio-frequency function -- at a cost. It would charge these customers an upfront fee, as well as ongoing fees, for turning off the radio, reading the meters manually and managing this new set of meters and customers.

The utility has laid out different proposed fees for different types of customers, such as low-income families. If the utilities commission approves the plan, people who want the radio off also will be able to choose between either paying a higher upfront fee and lower ongoing costs or a lower initial fee and higher monthly costs.

The upfront charges range from $105 to $270. The ongoing fees vary depending on whether customers opt for a fixed monthly cost ($11 to $20) or a fee based on their gas or electric use.

For those concerned about the health risks, but who don't want to pay these fees, there's also another option: Customers can ask PG&E to relocate their smart meter to another part of their property. The utility already has a program in place to make this change possible.


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13 Comments

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awfrey4

I work for Fisher Investments, and they recently announced the release of the newest sector guide from the Fisher Investments On series: Fisher Investments on Utilities. For more information about this latest sector guide, here is the full story: http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/Fisher-Investments-on-Utilities-Released-NYSE-JWA-1419077.htm

April 01 2011 at 2:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ms2754

These meters are making people sick...and I just joined the ranks. There should be a way out, if you are sensitive you shouldn't have to loose you life of this.
I you are having problems, you need to contact the CPUC (CA utility commission)and tell them that you urge them to vote for removal of the smart meters WITHOUT fees or fines. We shouldn't have to pay for their mistakes again, ENRON was enough! And they should care about the health of their customers without a big lawsuit to tell them to do the right thing! With cell phones you can opt out, or get protection, you have a choice..with smart meters you have no choice no protection!
email them at public.advisor@cpuc.ca.gov to voice your concern. thank you

March 30 2011 at 4:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Norm

"These meters have the potential to benefit both consumers and utilities: They could make it possible for customers to get, say, hourly updates of their energy use and information about how they could cut their electricity and gas use. And the meters could give utilities more information about energy demand and delivery troubles, helping them to manage the grid more efficiently"

What a bunch of BS!!!! I'm in pg&e's service area and have one installed. They don't know when we have a power outage, they estimated my January bill (up in the 300% tier), then my February bill was hardly anything (just barely in the 200%). I feel they estimated my bill to reap higher profits one month...then let me have some kinda of break the next month. The smart meters are there for pg&e's profits.

March 28 2011 at 10:29 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
hunterd38

I for one have talked to people about their comsumption and most do not know what their cost per killowhat is by the tier rating. They can tell you about how much their combined gas and electric bill is but cannot seperate the electric rate from the therm rate is on the gas side. If for example you do not favor electric power being generated by Nucular power plants this could be a way for the public to lower their usage to for go the building new power plants. This may give us the time to find another source of power in the future that you may like. I for one would like to see this project to move forward. Show me how to do my part. We need to cooperate...And lastly...PG&E is a privately held company that is regulated by the CPUC.Try and learn about your rates and what this company is trying to do.

March 27 2011 at 7:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Barry Gomes

I have the smart meter and my bill has gone down almost 30%.I keep hearing folks say that their bill went up but I must be the exception that makes the rule.

March 27 2011 at 2:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Barry Gomes

My God folks here in Calif. are really stupid.They think that they will live forever if there were no radio waves to attack them.EMBICILES; GET A LIFE AND QUIT COSTING ME MONEY FOR YOUR INANE PHOBIAS.

March 27 2011 at 1:57 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
ashespaw

Isn't this a typical California reaction? If they installed a meter that you didn't want AND they charged you for doing so, they'll now charge you for removing the meter that you didn't want in the first place and then charge you for turning off the radio that transmitted the signal. Then, to add insult to injury, they are going to charge you more for having somebody come by to read your meter. Did the utility ever lower your bill because they installed a radio device and no longer needed the meter reader? Thought not.

March 26 2011 at 12:38 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
dghrtymrd06

lets not forget that it also makes it easier for the man to track pot growers

March 25 2011 at 10:08 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
lmancilla677

corporations have and will continue to do their will with the community,they are the ones that control the greed of more and more,they come with idias and proposal to get more from the community,and city leaders allowed them to do so,they are protected from higher ups,because thats what higher lawmakers do and i mean if not most of them they say they are working for the people but don't what people,the oil people,the water people,all corporation,they are not to only to do well for society,but also are to take every penny they can suck up out you. just get your wallet ready to pay more.

March 25 2011 at 1:08 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to lmancilla677's comment
jeffe2000

The Local News Show (KION on Channel 3) here in the Monterey Bay Area, did a side by side cost of usage test on the Smart Meters and the Currently Used Meters over a 8 week span. They gave the results every week. The Smart Meters ALWAYS came back with a higher cost (usualy in the 20-90 cent per week range). If this was multiplied by every household that PG&E services, their labor cost would go down by 100's of $1000's while their EXTRA PROFIT would go up by the 10's of $1,000,000's. PG&E is a Monopoly a lot the money they save will go to Bonus Payouts for their Executives. Why is a Monopoly giving out Bonuses in the 1st place? .

March 25 2011 at 3:02 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
Larry and Celia

Pg&e still trying to rip off the people of California. Smart meters is not here to help customers, but raise billions for pg&e's mistakes, and lay off employes, meter readers ect. pg&e will have to pay the cost from share holders... no div. Not we have to invest in solor and dump pg&e.

March 25 2011 at 12:23 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply