PG&E To Let Some Customers Keep Old Utility Meters

Can PG&E finally hear its’ customers?

PG&E Corp.’s (PCG) utility offered Monday to let customers who don’t want an electronic smart meter keep their old, analog meter, in response to some customers’ concerns about health effects.

PG&E has faced resistance to its $2.2 billion rollout of smart meters from a small but vocal group of customers who claim that radio signals from the smart meters cause headaches, sleep problems and other illnesses, and that they also have led to overcharges by the utility.

PG&E has insisted that the meters are safe and accurate. The utility has installed nine million gas and electric smart meters, and has roughly a million to go.

Nevertheless, the utility said Monday that it was responding to customer concerns by giving customers the choice to receive analog meters rather than digital smart meters, which can send and receive data via a radio frequency.

PG&E Chief Executive Anthony Earley said Monday that less than 1% of customers have said they don’t want the smart meters.

“We think it’ll be a smaller number that will want to keep the analog meter,” Earley said in an interview.

PG&E’s move to resolve the smart-meter dispute comes less than a week after the company admitted that it was at fault for a fatal 2010 pipeline explosion and would compensate victims who have sued the company. The utility is also locked in a fight with consumer advocates over its proposal to make customers pay for most of a $2.2 billion pipeline improvement effort. State regulators have yet to decide how much customers will pay and how much the company will pay.

Federal investigators concluded in August that PG&E was responsible for the Sept. 9, 2010 explosion of a natural-gas pipeline in San Bruno, Calif., that killed eight people and injured 58 others, owing to welding defects that weakened the pipeline and ineffective management of the company’s pipeline operations.

Last week, PG&E shut off power to a handful of customers in Santa Cruz County, Calif., after they removed their new smart meters and paid electricians to replaced them with analog meters. The company eventually restored power to those customers and said Friday that it would leave it up to the California Public Utilities Commission to decide how the utility should handle customers opposed to the smart meters.

Consumer advocates say PG&E could have avoided the escalation and customer pushback on the smart meters if the utility had educated customers about the smart meters and been more responsive to customer concerns at the beginning.

“This wouldn’t have been necessary if PG&E had listened to their customers sooner,” said Mindy Spatt, a spokeswoman for The Utility Reform Network.

State regulators had been considering proposals that would require customers to have a smart meter but with the transmitter shut off, or let customers choose a digital meter without a transmitter. Those provisions and the new proposal would likely include an initial fee plus a monthly charge to cover the cost of having to send utility employees to read the meters of residences that don’t have a regular smart meter, PG&E said.