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PG&E Proposes Smart Meter Option for Concerned Customers

As a hard-core group of concerned consumers from the San Francisco Bay Area suburbs continues to allege health hazards from smart meters, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) last Thursday proposed a radio wave-free option for customers who are convinced that radio frequencies produced in the meters cause serious health problems. PG&E proposes to simply turn off the radios in the smart meters for customers requesting it.

At its business meeting last Thursday the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) was again bombarded by more than 60 consumers speaking out against the PG&E meter changeout, alleging a wide variety of illnesses caused by new meters that all of the state's major utilities are installing in a multi-billion-dollar effort that has been ongoing for the past four years (see Daily GPI, March 14; June 20, 2006).

PG&E has said its new meters use small one-watt radios that allow two-way communication and transmit relatively weak radio signals, resembling those of many other products most people use every day, including cell phones, baby monitors and microwave ovens. Major radio stations, by contrast, usually transmit with 50,000 times as much power, the utility said.

Earlier in March CPUC President Michael Peevey said only a relatively few portions of the PG&E service territory have drawn complaints about smart meters, but he asked the San Francisco-based combination utility to submit plans for giving customers an "opt-out" opportunity. PG&E's filing with the CPUC last Thursday was its response to Peevey's request.

Following what it called the dictates of the state regulators, PG&E said its proposal would not increase costs for customers who choose to keep a fully functioning smart meter.

Under the utility's proposal, customers would pay reasonable upfront and recurring fees to cover the costs of turning off the radio, manually reading meters monthly, modifying the utility information technology systems and providing information to customers on the program through call centers and other channels. "The fees would also help reinforce the existing advanced metering network to compensate for any degradation that turning off the radio causes," a PG&E spokesperson said.

In addition, customers can request that their meters be moved to a different location on their property. The cost of relocating the meter would vary depending on such factors as whether the customer receives underground or overhead service, a PG&E spokesperson said.

Customers choosing to have the radios in their meters turned off won't be able to obtain in-home or small business services, such as hourly electric and daily natural gas usage data. Eventually time-of-use options, outage information, remote service connection and other in-home services will be available through the meters, PG&E said.

"These services will not be available to customers who elect to have the radio device turned off," the utility spokesperson said.

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