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Consumer Technology

Published on February 2nd, 2012 | by Silvio Marcacci


California Utility Customers Can “Opt-Out” of Smart Meters

February 2nd, 2012 by  

In a decision that could have major implications for smart grid efforts around the country, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) yesterday ruled 4-0 that utility customers could opt-out of smart meter installations.

The decision comes after a year of contentious debate between Northern California utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and customers who were concerned about safety risks and privacy concerns.

Opting out, for a fee

The CPUC’s ruling provides customers with the option of paying a premium to keep their older analog meter. Those choosing to opt-out will have to pay a one-time $75 fee and a $10 monthly fee for as long as they keep their analog meter. Low-income customers can pay a reduced $10 upfront fee and $5 monthly charge.

The new charges would make up for the cost of re-installing analog meters on homes that want to switch back and the cost of having meter readers visit homes every billing cycle.

PG&E had advocated for the CPUC to allow customers to switch radio transmitters off inside installed smart meters, but that option was still controversial to customers who were concerned about electromagnetic radiation. The CPUC had found that even though PG&E’s smart meters emitted radiation frequency when the radio was turned off or removed, it was still below allowable FCC standards.

PG&E has plans in place to install around 9.7 million smart meters for residential and business customers by the end of 2012. The company says around 90,000 residential customers had signed up for its “delayed installation” list to avoid having a smart meter installed before the CPUC ruling was finalized. PG&E had estimated that almost 150,000 customers would opt-out if given the chance.

The biggest, but not the first

While the CPUC’s ruling will have the biggest impact on smart meter plans to date, it is not the first state to allow customers to opt-out of utility installation plans. Maine’s Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) established an opt-out program for the 612,000 customers in Central Maine Power’s territory in May 2011.

Customers have two options – they can either keep an analog meter for a $40 one-time fee and $12 ongoing monthly charge, or have a modified smart meter installed with the radio turned off for a $20 initial charge and $10.50 recurring fee.

Ultimate opt-out effect?

Ultimately, consumers who opt out may incur even greater financial losses. California has aggressive smart grid plans, including time-of-use pricing and demand response programs, both of which empower customers to make smart energy consumption decisions based on more accurate power costs and offer financial incentives to reduce electricity use during peak demand. But, both programs require two-way communication between utility and customer, and neither can truly work with an analog meter.

A 2010 CPUC survey found much of the controversy surrounding PG&E’s smart meter initiative stems from the company’s lack of customer service when installing the meters and dealing with subsequent concerns.

Images courtesy of PG&E and Bay Area News Group

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About the Author

Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate policy public relations company based in Oakland, CA.

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  • DC

    No, all Californians can NOT opt out of the smart meters. Private municipalities such as the cities of Burbank, Glendale and others are not complying. They have already installed the entire city of Burbank as of last year with no “delay” or “opt out” of any kind.

    These meters are not intended to “green” the city, “save on utility bills”, “reduce energy consumption”. They have one function and one function only, to put more money in the coffers of big energy corporations.

    Seriously, do you think they would spend tens of millions of dollars installing something without the consent of the public without knowing they were going to be compensated at least 100 fold down line?! THEY ARE IN BUSINESS TO MAKE MONEY, not help the environment, reduce your usage, or green America.

    These health-affecting meters will help them find out exactly what times we all use the most electricity and gas, and then they will exponentially increase the cost of the usage during those times. And they will be able to parse it down to the minutes. This is just their latest plan in an on going arrangement to bilk the public.

    Why would a corporate structure that makes billions from your energy usage be trying to set things up so that you use less, which is what they claim is the reason for these damnable things (“you’ll be able to see when you use the most energy and amend your usage”)? Why would they want to make LESS money, which would be the upshot of you consuming less? Have you thought about that?

    The fact that at least one the CPUC board member who put forward charging fees for opting out and for removing the units that were installed without our consent was formerly an exec with PG&E should tell you something. Why should we have to pay for NOT having something installed? Why should we have to pay to remove something we didn’t approve in the first place, ON OUR PRIVATE PROPERTY. Why are these things not VOTED ON.

    The truth is the corporations that rule our governments and rule us are not there to make your life free or easy. They’re going for total domination, and they’re almost there. The United Fascist States of America.

    It’s time to WAKE. UP.

    • Well, there’s no doubt these things will help to cut energy use (and, thus, benefit the environment). Numerous projects have documented the savings. Don’t go overboard with your criticisms if you want to be listened to.

      • RobertWilliams


        Are you a utility company shill?

        There are NO documented energy savings anywhere in the U.S. where smart meters have been installed and the Cost+Benefit is horrendous in each area resulting in the Attorney General rejecting smart meters on a cost+benefit analysis.

        Please identify any energy savings actually occurring other than loose talk by the utility company and you repeating it.

        • No, I read and write about energy a lot. I’ve seen pilot projects where residents saved good money from such a shift.

          The basic point is: electricity costs more to deliver at higher-demand times. Additionally, shifting loads, especially abruptly, is a challenge. Such technology supplies better, more timely information, and it allows for easier demand-side changes that reduce the need for the costly practices above.

          I’m sorry, I understand the concerns with the technology, but the point that it can save people and utilities money is not an issue of contention.

        • RobertWilliams

          Reply to Zachary below.

          There are NO documented energy savings anywhere in the U.S. where smart meters have been installed.

          The pilot programs you refer to have the utility companies giving the participants up to $6,000 worth of specialized equipment including energy monitors that customers do NOT receive in the real programs.

          And the utility companies offer prizes to those who conserve the most.

          It has already been demonstrated on numerous ocassions that (1) the cost of the pilot programs per customer far outweigh advantages and (2) any conservation that occurs is NOT due to the smart meter but due to the motivation of the participants to succeed or win prizes, which could have been done WITHOUT costly smart meters.

  • Anonymous

    Those opting out are still paying about $300 in their utility bills for the smart meter that they are NOT getting.

    Whey don’t they get a credit for $300 since they don’t get a smart meter?

    • Seems pretty clear that it costs the electric company money to have them on the old meter.

      • RobertWilliams

        It has been repeated and propagandized over and over and over by the utility company, but please explain how it is “Clear.”

        If someone goes out for Pizza and you don’t want any, are you supposed to pay your share for the pizza plus a additional for opting out?

        The fee is extortion and it’s intention is for additional funds for the Utility Company and to punatively discourage people from opting out. They get away with this extortion because the PUC is working with PG$E rather than regulating them.

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