Saturday, February 04, 2012

PG&E customers allowed smart meter opt-out, at a price some call 'health extortion'

PG&E, a California public utility, has been installing "smart meters" across its territory, but not all its customers have been happy about them. Some claim the meters, which send data back wirelessly to PG&E in lieu of having a meter reader come out to monitor energy use and bill customers, have made them ill. Claimants cite symptoms that include insomnia, heart palpitations and paniful tinnitus.

On Wednesday, California regulators voted to allow those among the company's customers who want to keep their old analog electricity and gas meters to do so --- at a cost. In order to opt-out of the smart meters, customers will be required to pay $75 up front, along with monthly charges of $10. PG&E had asked for $270 up front and $14 per month.

Low-income customers enrolled in the CARE program (California Alternate Rates for Energy) will face a lower fee, but a fee nevertheless, including a monthly one: a $10 initial fee and a $5 monthly fee.

Critics of the decision, and there were plenty in attendance at the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) hearing, called the decision tantamount to being blackmailed to protect their health. Others noted that unless their neighbors also removed their smart meters, they would still be subjected to radiation from nearby houses. They want the entire $2.2 billion PG&E SmartMeter program scrapped.

Of course, for PG&E, analog meters mean a cost, or more realistically, a lack of savings. By having their meters send back data on usage, the need for meter readers is gone, and that saves the utility a lot of money.

Meanwhile, these affected customers, and perhaps some that see the smart meters as intrusive, want out of the program. PG&E has 5.1 million electricity customers and 4.3 million natural gas customers. Of these, the utility estimates that only 145,000 to 150,000 will elect to keep their analog meters.

Some call those who say they have been affected by wireless signals and electromagnetic radiation, whether from high-tension electrical wires, wi-fi, cellular phones, or whatever, as imagining their issues. In 2011, though, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified cell phone radiation as "possibly carcinogenic to humans."

However, there is no conclusive evidence that wireless devices are carcinogenic, but considering how long --- or short --- many of these wireless devices have been around, many say there has not been enough research into the long-term effects, not just of cell phone radiation, but to the myriad of man-made radiation of many types that people are exposed to daily.

And while this issue and decision affects PG&E customers, it is likely to become a national issue. Utility companies in 25 states are working to integrate new smart metertechnology.

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