PG&E has submitted a proposal that would charge customers an up front fee, plus monthly fees and an exit fee, for customers who want to opt out of the utility's .
The company submitted its proposal on Thursday to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) in response to a requiring PG&E to provide options for residents with concerns about the SmartMeters.
Opponents of the wireless devices, which are meant to reduce energy consumption by monitoring utility use and transmitting the information in real time, argue the radio frequency waves emitted by the meters are detrimental to their health.
PG&E's proposal would give customers the option of having PG&E turn off or disable the radios inside their SmartMeters, which would eliminate the radio frequency, according to company.
The utility proposed charging $135 to $270 up front to have an employee turn off the meters, plus a $14 to $20 monthly fee to keep it off. Customers could choose to pay a per-kilowatt-hour fee instead of the fixed monthly fee.
PG&E would also charge customers an exit fee when they terminate service so future customers could use the SmartMeters.
The utility estimated that about 145,800 customers could choose to have the meters turned off over the next two years, causing an estimated $84.4 million in capital costs and expenses.
The costs include sending personnel to turn off the meters, sending meter readers to manually check the modified meters every month, and upgrading the rest of the SmartMeter radio frequency network to compensate for any network degradation caused by the turned-off radios.
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.
Customers can also ask to have their SmartMeters moved to different locations on their property at estimated costs of $2,500 to $4,500 for overhead-meter customers and $6,000 to $11,000 for underground customers.
PG&E's net income in 2010 was $1.1 billion.
As of March 1, the utility had installed 7.7 million gas and electric SmartMeters, which it says only transmit radio waves for milliseconds at a time and for very short durations.
The company estimates exposure to the low-frequency waves total about 45 seconds every 24 hours - much less than cell phones and microwave ovens.
Some residents remain skeptical of PG&E's estimates, though, and say a more thorough independent review should be done before the SmartMeters are thrust upon them.
Speakers packed a CPUC meeting in San Francisco on Thursday and described health conditions they and their loved ones had suffered since the SmartMeters were installed. Many called the proposed charges a form of extortion.
"I shouldn't have to pay more for the right to opt out of irradiation," Petaluma resident Dana Davis said before details of the proposed fee structure had been released.
Davis said she didn't have a SmartMeter and didn't want one, while other residents described experiencing migraines, heart palpitations, and sleep problems after receiving the devices.
Some speakers questioned the effectiveness of the proposed opt-out program in reducing radiation given that other meters would be modified to compensate for those that had been disabled.
The National Cancer Institute has not found conclusive evidence that radio frequency radiation is associated with risks of developing cancer.
--Bay City News Service