Bowing to pressure from customers, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) decided Monday to give in to individual customers who insist that they cannot tolerate — for health or other reasons — smart meters, recommending to state regulators that a proposed opt-out provision be expanded to include use of analog meters.

An earlier more limited opt-out proposal by PG&E is currently before the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) awaiting a decision from regulators (see Daily GPI, Nov. 28).

The San Francisco-based combination utility proposed the option of modified smart meters since two-way wireless devices have drawn opposition from a group of customers in the past two years. The proposal will be on the CPUC’s Jan. 12 agenda. The provisions affect both electric and natural gas meters, although it has been the electric meters that have stirred controversy among small groups of PG&E customers, mostly in suburban areas surrounding San Francisco to the north and south.

Saying that some customers remain concerned about the smart meter technology being deployed and want alternatives, Helen Burt, PG&E senior vice president and chief customer officer, said some customers have made it “clear that an analog meter is the option they prefer to address their unease with wireless technology,” the same radio frequency (RF) concerns that historically have been raised regarding cell phones, but found by various researchers not to be a health risk.

“Independent studies repeatedly have affirmed the safety and accuracy of smart meters,” the utility said. “However, in response to comments from some customers, PG&E last March proposed offering them a choice to turn off the radios in their smart meters [see Daily GPI, March 29], and/or to delay the installation until the CPUC approves a way to opt-out of the program.”

Offering the analog meters is the latest attempt to try to appease the customers who don’t want smart meters. So far, PG&E said it has installed nearly nine million gas and electric digital, wireless advanced metering systems, or smart meters. It has stressed that similar metering system deployments are now under way at utilities throughout the nation.

“Personal choice is important to our customers,” Burt said. “In response to their requests, we are asking the CPUC to approve an option for customers to receive analog meters.”

Burt said the CPUC will likely require customers who opt-out of the program to pay an initial fee and some reasonable monthly charge to cover the costs of manual meter reading and other operational and billing issues associated with the analog technology.

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