After PG&E installed a smart meter at the home of Vera Sokolova and Alexei Kacharovsky of Mountain View in autumn 2009, something very alarming happened. Their energy bills started going up, despite no change in usage. By December their PG&E bill had tripled and continued to rise during the first few months of 2010.
The couple contacted PG&E to complain, but PG&E service representatives told them that the new meters was working just fine and that the old meter had been running slow. Understandably suspicious, the couple contacted TURNs Consumer Advisors for help.
Kacharovsky, an engineering technician, suspected that his smart meter, rather than the old analog one, was malfunctioning. He began taking detailed readings of energy use in his home and comparing that against to the Smart Meter read. TURN reviewed the couple’s bills, agreed that the meter readings did not appear correct, and assisted them with filing an informal complaint with the CPUC.
With their complaint pending, Karcharovsky and Sokolova continued to challenge PG&E lame explanation with proof that the meter was faulty. Eventually PG&E backed down, acknowledging that their smart meter might have overbilled them, and offering them a credit of $1400 and a new smart meter. But PG&E would not agree to one of the couple’s key demands: either replace the smart meter with an old, analog one, or place an old analog meter next to the Smart Meter so that the customers could do a side-by-side comparison themselves.
Although after PG&E replaced the faulty Smart Meter with a new one their bills did go down, Vera and Alexi still didn’t trust the smart meter, and believed only a side-by-side test with an analog meter would prove its accuracy. Furthermore, PG&E had admitted that they were having problems communicating with the new Smart Meter they had installed to replace the old, malfunctioning one! They turned to TURN for help again.
Armed with PG&E own admissions and a meticulous amount of data they had collected, TURN helped them file a formal complaint so that they could argue their case in person in front of an Administrative Law Judge at the CPUC. Kacharovsky also attended CPUC meetings and took advantage of the public comment portion to speak out about the terrible experience with Smart Meters he and his wife were having.
They squared off against PG&E attorneys in a CPUC hearing room in December of 2010. Their evidence was irrefutable, and the judge ruled in their favor. In May of 2011 the CPUC Commissioners unanimously voted to order PG&E to not only credit the couple $1400 but also to reinstall an analog meter next to their Smart Meter for a side-by-side comparison until a formal Smart Meter opt out plan is finalized!
Although it was a long drawn out battle, Vera and Alexei showed that with persistence and determination, utility companies can be held accountable. “Although it took over a year, with TURN’s help, we fought back and won,” Sokolova said.