April 25, 2011
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. is extending a temporary, no-cost opportunity for customers to opt out of SmartMeters, PG&E's wireless technology that records electric and natural gas usage electronically. Based on a temporary opt-out option successfully piloted in Carmel, the company is making the option available to all customers statewide Monday.
"They’ve taken the compromise I worked out for Carmel, and they’re now applying it across the entire state," says Councilman Jason Burnett. "PG&E has in many ways botched the roll out of smart meters, but I think this is a good step."
In March, PG&E agreed to allow Carmel residents to delay SmartMeter installation by signing on to a delay list. The delay list for installations "came as a direct result of our really productive dialogue [with Burnett]," says PG&E Spokesperson Jeff Smith.
This option is a temporary solution as the Public Utilities Commission considers PG&E's proposed "radio off" option, its long-term fix to what will eventually be a universal SmartMeter upgrade for all customers. (Customers will have to pay for the radio off alternative; PG&E's proposal, still awaiting PUC approval which could take several months, is for a $270 up-front fee plus $14 monthly charges, or $135 up front and $20 monthly charges. PG&E expects about 100,000 customers to select to pay for the opt-out.)
This temporary opt-out option comes as controversy around the wireless technology and alleged health impacts continues to flare up in public comment at city and county meetings, and at least two dozen cities have issued bans on SmartMeter installations, among them Watsonville, Santa Cruz and Monterey.
Burnett, who is personally supportive of SmartMeters and "excited about the technology," says he expects the delay list to reduce some of the controversy. As to how he leveraged one 5,000-resident town across PG&E's entire service area, "I just picked up the telephone," Burnett says.