Under pressure from the general public and state officials, San Francisco-based Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) on Monday issued a general apology to its customers and began offering more details on its massive billion-dollar-plus transition to an advanced metering system for its electric and natural gas utility customers. The utility released a 700-page report on its almost four-year-old effort to deploy smart meters for all of its customers.

Claiming to be the state’s only utility that is reporting on its meter conversion program as often or in as much detail, PG&E said it has been providing these reports to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), as well as the CPUC’s independent consumer unit, the Division of Ratepayer Advocates (DRA), since the beginning of the combination utility’s SmartMeter program.

The utility acknowledged that it has lost some “trust” among customers, and it pledged to regain the confidence of those customers, noting a number of “risks and issues” that have been resolved during the transition that caused a brouhaha that has sparked CPUC intervention (see Daily GPI, April 1). In a $1.4 million contract, the CPUC in late March named a Houston-based energy/utility consulting company, The Structure Group, to assess the veracity of the utility’s advanced metering implementation program.

State representatives and consumers last year had raised concerns about the accuracy of the new metering system. In taking this action, the CPUC stressed that advanced metering systems have been and are being installed throughout California, the nation and world.

PG&E Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer Helen Burt said the latest information “reaffirms the facts we previously outlined for customers,” namely that more than 99% of the advanced metering devices installed so far “are performing exactly as designed.” While only 1% of the new meters have been problematic, Burt acknowledged that this represents 50,000 customers who have potentially been adversely impacted.

“This is a success rate that represents a significant advance over traditional meter technology, delivering more accurate bills to our customers along with more detailed information about their energy use.” Burt contended that PG&E has been “frank, forthright and proactive with regulators and ratepayer advocates” regarding the massive transformation’s progress and challenges.

The newly released information includes data pertaining to early reviews, monitoring, testing and corrections identified and applied throughout the program, in most cases before the issues could affect customers or their bills, Burt said. “Included in the information are ‘risk tables’ showing that, as part of its implementation efforts, the company took steps to think through and address a wide range of potential issues that could arise. Also included are ‘mitigation tables’ that show prudent steps the company took to identify, plan for and manage these potential issues.”

In the reports, PG&E said it identified 137 of what it termed “unique risks and issues” over a four-year period. Of the 118 that required specific action plans for resolution, 107 have been resolved. Four of those issues impacted customer bills, and PG&E identified those last month as involving wireless communications, data storage, meter installation and meter accuracy.

The CPUC’s ongoing investigation is to begin first concentrating on the San Joaquin Valley area, including its southern region around Bakersfield, CA, where many consumer complaints arose last year. The work, however, will also evaluate the overall PG&E smart meter program, including sample meter testing from other parts of the PG&E territory.

PG&E’s metering program is part of a statewide effort approved by the CPUC to upgrade California’s energy infrastructure with automated metering technology. The utility and regulators hope the technology will the cornerstone of the smart grid that will modernize the electric system to be stronger, smarter and more efficient.

“We have confidence in this technology and in our program,” Burt said. “At the same time, we recognize that some customers question whether they can have faith in our program, and frankly in PG&E. Restoring this trust is absolutely critical to us. We also know that we’ve let some of our customers down with the quality of customer service they received.”

“Today, we are renewing our commitment to our customers,” Burt added. “We pledge to address customer service issues better than we have been, more quickly, and more aggressively.”

©Copyright 2010Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news reportmay not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in anyform, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.