Friday, March 11, 2011

Blog #6 - PUC Asks PG&E to offer an Option to Wireless Smart Meters

Portions of the information below was taken from Patch News as reported by Kelly Dunleavy on March 10, 2011:

Michael Peevey, Chair of the PUC has asked in a letter the following of PG&E:

“[I have asked PG&E to] bring to this commission a proposal or a series of proposals that will allow customers with an aversion to wireless devices the option of being metered without the use of wireless technology,” said CPUC President Michael Peevey in a statement before the CPUC’s meeting March 10 in San Francisco, where dozens of people spoke about the health risks associated with the meters. PG&E's proposal is expected within two weeks.

“This is fantastic news,” said Sandi Maurer, founder of the EMF Safety Network, who had previously filed a motion with the CPUC asking for a moratorium on the installation of the meters.

The wireless digital meters have come under fire over the last year because of concerns about accuracy, security, privacy and health effects. The meters use a combination of radio and microwaves to transmit data from the digital meter attached to your house to a transponder on a nearby telephone pole. That data is then transmitted via a cellular mesh network back to PG&E. Read about how the wireless meters work here.

Because of concerns primarily focused on the health questions related to electro-magnetic frequencies and radio frequencies, PG&E has said in the past that it was considering developing alternatives, such as wired meters. PG&E has maintained, however, that the meters are safe and meet FCC standards for such devices.

“It’s something we’ve actually been looking at,” said PG&E spokesperson Katie Romans of the CPUC’s order. “The order certainly advances the timeline.”

PG&E has until March 24 to come up with a plan to implement the opt-out, while continuing installation of the meters otherwise, and bring that plan back to the CPUC.

Romans said some of the key questions that will be resolved by that March 24 plan are what various options are for those who choose to opt-out, what the cost impacts of those options would be, and what PG&E will do about those customers that already have the new meters installed in their homes.

“We really will have to look at who we are talking about,” said Romans.

It in unlikely that customers will simply be allowed to opt for their current analog meter, given that those are in the process of being phased out by manufacturers, she said. Additionally, PG&E still has a mandate to implement upgrades to the overall system and install a smart grid to allow for energy efficiency programs down the line. It is likely, then, that customers will be given a wired or digital option.

“How do we address these customers’ concerns while still ensuring them these environmental benefits,” Romans said.

Peevey also said in his statement that PG&E’s proposal for “some form of opt-out for customers who object to these devices” could be achieved at a “reasonable cost” that will be paid for by the customers that choose to opt-out.

Statewide, PG&E has installed over 7.65 million meters, with the goal of installing 10 million gas and electric meters by mid-2012. In Marin, 88,927 electric SmartMeters have been installed and 66,334 gas – as of March 4. That leaves just over 60,000 gas and electric to still be installed.

But, in towns that have been particularly vocal in their opposition the numbers are much lower.

In Fairfax, where PG&E has voluntarily been delaying installation while community meetings attempted to answer residents’ questions, just 67 electric and 217 gas SmartMeters have been installed. The Fairfax Town Council also passed a moratorium on the meters last year, but it has not yet been challenged in court. And PG&E has maintained that when work has to be done on a meter, they are forced to install a new digital meter, because the older analog ones are being phased out.

None of the SmartMeters are transmitting yet, until the entire region is installed.