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Regulators approve opt out of SmartMeters for a fee

POSTED February 3, 2012 9:56 p.m.

The California Public Utilities Commission voted to let customers continue using the old analog electricity and gas meters instead of the new wireless SmartMeters, but it comes with a cost.

The commission approved by a 4-0 vote, an opt out program that will charge residential customers an initial $75 fee to stay off the SmartMeters and $10 every month thereafter. Low income customers who qualify for the California Alternate Rates for Energy program will pay an initial $10 fee and $5 a month to opt out.

"We know personal choice is important to our customers when it comes to the meters on their homes," said Helen Burt, Pacific Gas and Electricity's senior vice president and chief customer officer. "This final decision in support of analog meters is a positive step forward for those who have concerns over wireless technology. We understand some customers have been waiting for this decision, and we are actively reaching out to those who have expressed their desire for a SmartMeter alternative."

PG&E said the fees are necessary to pay for installing the analog models on residences that have chosen to switch back and for the costs associated with having meter readers check the analog models once a month. The commission stated they would follow the costs of the opt out program and reserved the right to change the fees should it be deemed necessary.

SmartMeters track usage information and send it to PG&E through wireless signals. PG&E says the digital meters give customers more control over their energy usage and helps the environment by conserving natural resources. PG&E also touts the accuracy and safety of SmartMeters.

Questions about the accuracy of the digital meters have been raised in the past, but the opposition to them has mainly focused on possible health-related issues.

Opponents of the SmartMeters dispute the safety claims and believe the wireless signals are responsible for a myriad of health problems. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine, an organization tracking perceived toxic materials in the environment, believes the wireless signals sent out by the SmartMeters cause insomnia, headaches, nausea and heart trouble. The health effects from radiation emitting from wireless devices remains a debatable topic among medical and research communities.

The AAEM sent a letter to the commission asking for a moratorium on SmartMeter installation that the commission rejected. PG&E has installed more than 9 million SmartMeters in Northern California so far and expects to reach 10 million by the end of the year. A backlash from customers opposed to the SmartMeters prompted a “delayed installation” list, which has about 90,000 residential customers signed up, according to PG&E. Fewer than 1 percent of PG&E customers in Stanislaus County have signed up for the delayed installation.

The fees for the opt out program were soundly rejected by the grassroots organization Stop Smart Meters!

“This decision flies in the face on the 70+ speakers who turned out at the meeting to oppose any fees and to describe their symptoms,” the organization said in a news release.

PG&E customers who want to opt-out of the SmartMeter program can submit their request online at www.pge.com/smartmeteroptout or call 1-866-743-0263. PG&E plans to remove the gas and electric SmartMeters from the homes of those opt-out customers who already have SmartMeters; those customers who still have analog meters will be able to keep them.

To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail sstafford@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.

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