The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued an order this week that PG&E allow residents to opt-out of the utility’s controversial SmartMeters.
“[I have asked PG&E to] bring to this commission a proposal or a series of proposals that will allow customers with an aversion to wireless devices the option of being metered without the use of wireless technology,” said CPUC President Michael Peevey in a statement before the CPUC’s meeting today in San Francisco, where dozens of people spoke about the health risks associated with the meters.
"We're pleased that the regulatory authority is urging this option be available to customers," said Mill Valley City Manager Jim McCan, who sent a letter to state Assemblyman Jared Huffman in January in support of his AB 37, which provides for an opt-out alternative to SmartMeters. "The choice of device is clearly desired by many residents of our area; providing this choice would be a responsive and responsible step by PG&E."
“This is fantastic news,” said Sandi Maurer, founder of the EMF Safety Network, who had previously filed a motion with the CPUC asking for a moratorium on the installation of the meters.
The wireless digital meters have come under fire over the last year because of concerns about accuracy, security, privacy and health effects. The meters use a combination of radio and microwaves to transmit data from the digital meter attached to your house to a transponder on a nearby telephone pole. That data is then transmitted via a cellular mesh network back to PG&E. .
Because of concerns primarily focused on the health questions related to electro-magnetic frequencies and radio frequencies, PG&E has said in the past that it was , such as wired meters. PG&E has maintained, however, that the meters are safe and .
“It’s something we’ve actually been looking at,” said PG&E spokesperson Katie Romans of the CPUC’s order. “The order certainly advances the timeline.”
PG&E has until March 24 to come up with a plan to implement the opt-out, while continuing installation of the meters otherwise, and bring that plan back to the CPUC.
Romans said some of the key questions that will be resolved by that March 24 plan are what various options are for those who choose to opt-out, what the cost impacts of those options would be, and what PG&E will do about those customers that already have the new meters installed in their homes.
“We really will have to look at who we are talking about,” said Romans.
In Mill Valley, most of the SmartMeters have been installed. According to PG&E meter installation data through March 4, PG&E has installed 11,934 gas SmartMeters, or 83.4 percent of the 14,304 total gas meters at residences and businesses in the city. For electric meters, PG&E has installed 9,746 SmartMeters, or 78.2 percent of the 12,456 total electric meters in the city.
It in unlikely that customers will simply be allowed to opt for their current analog meter, given that those are in the process of being phased out by manufacturers, she said. Additionally, PG&E still has a mandate to implement upgrades to the overall system and install a smart grid to allow for energy efficiency programs down the line. It is likely, then, that customers will be given a wired or digital option.
“How do we address these customers’ concerns while still ensuring them these environmental benefits,” Romans said.
Peevey also said in his statement that PG&E’s proposal for “some form of opt-out for customers who object to these devices” could be achieved at a “reasonable cost” that will be paid for by the customers that choose to opt-out.
Statewide, PG&E has installed over 7.65 million meters, with the goal of installing 10 million gas and electric meters by mid-2012. In Marin, 88,927 electric SmartMeters have been installed and 66,334 gas – as of March 4. That leaves just over 60,000 gas and electric to still be installed.
But, in towns that have been particularly vocal in their opposition the numbers are much lower.
In Fairfax, where while attempted to answer residents’ questions, just 67 electric and 217 gas SmartMeters have been installed. The Fairfax Town Council also passed a moratorium on the meters last year, but it has not yet been challenged in court. And PG&E has maintained that when work has to be done on a meter, they are forced to install a new digital meter, because the older analog ones are being phased out.
None of the SmartMeters are transmitting yet, until the entire region is installed.
The , but both the district attorney and the sheriff said they would not enforce it.
In West Marin, which falls under the supervisors jurisdiction and which has been particularly opposed to the meters – with two women being arrested during a protest surrounding a Wellington Energy truck that came to install the meters, the number of SmartMeters has also been low. According to PG&E’s numbers as of March 4, Point Reyes Station had just eight electric SmartMeters installed. Lagunitas had only four electric SmartMeters, same as Muir Beach. Olema had two and San Geronino had five. (None of these places have gas PG&E meters.)
Marin’s deployment is expected to be complete by the summer.
The opt-out proposal is not likely to entirely resolve the issue. For residents concerned about the health issues surrounding EMF and RF, the fact that the SmartMeter network will continue to exist in their towns, on their blocks and at their neighbor’s means that them simply opting out doesn’t answer all their questions.
What is needed, said Maurer, is public education and a hearing on the effects of microwave radiation.
“I’m looking forward to a continuing conversation on consumer rights,” said Maurer.
Here's a breakdown of PG&E's meter installations within city limits as of March 4. Analog/EMR meters are the old meters.Mill Valley (as of 3/4) Analog SmartMeter Total
Gas 2,370 11,934 14,304 Electric 2,710 9,746 12,456