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PG&E Faces More Smart Meter Woes

As state regulators weigh its plan to allow customers to opt out of using advanced metering systems for health reasons, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) said Monday it is dealing with a small number of defective smart meters that overcharged about 1,600 electric utility customers throughout its territory. The problem did not arise in the smart natural gas meters the combination utility has installed.

Meter manufacturer Landis+Gyr North America determined that a defect impacted fewer than 1,600 of the 2 million meters it has supplied to PG&E as part of a billion-dollar, five-year program to replace all of the utility's meters. PG&E said it would replace the meters at no cost to customers.

Customers with the bad meters will receive refunds averaging $45 for inaccurate bills they have received, along with a $25 credit for their inconvenience and a free in-home energy audit, PG&E said.

In response to a group of concerned consumers from the San Francisco Bay Area suburbs continuing to allege health hazards from smart meters, PG&E in late March proposed a radio wave-free option for customers who are convinced that radio frequencies produced in the meters cause health problems. PG&E proposes to simply turn off the radios in the smart meters for customers requesting it.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is still reviewing the PG&E opt-out plan. At many of the CPUC business meetings this year, regulators have been bombarded by 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 29).

Neighboring utilities and neighboring states are all moving toward total meter changeouts, but they have not experienced any of the pushback that PG&E has encountered, and even for the San Francisco-based utility the overall numbers of complaints has come from relatively few among its 5.1 million electric and 4.3 million natural gas utility customers.

The faulty meters have turned up throughout the utility's territory in central and northern parts of the state, stretching from Antioch to Bakersfield. It is not clear how many, if any, of the defective meters are in homes where customers have already indicated they wish to opt out of the program, PG&E said.

Even though the defective meters are few, PG&E's vice president in charge of smart meter operation, Greg Kiraly, said the utility is taking them"very seriously." And Landis+Gyr officials have assured the utility that the defective meters represent "only a small population" of the devices installed.

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