SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Pacific Gas & Electric Co. can start charging its customers fees of up to $10 per month if they don’t want to have wireless “smart meters” installed in their homes, according to a decision Wednesday by California regulators.

Four members of the California Public Utilities Commission approved a proposal that allows PG&E to charge residential customers an initial fee of $75, plus $10 each month, to opt out of the company’s highly contested $2.2 billion SmartMeter program.

Critics contend SmartMeters, which electronically monitor a home’s electricity and gas usage, emit harmful levels of radiation. PG&E maintains that the meters are safe and will bring down the utility’s meter reading costs.

Dozens of opponents and advocacy groups from Fairfax to San Luis Obispo testified at the commission’s meeting in its downtown San Francisco headquarters. After the vote, they erupted into a chorus of chants of “We say no fee, charge the utility” before being led out of the hall by law enforcement officers.

“We are allowing an opt-out option. We’re not taking a step backwards,” said CPUC President Michael Peevey, who drafted the proposal. “We want to empower customers, and we think this a major step to do so.”

Under the new plan, PG&E can charge its low-income customers an initial fee of $10, plus an extra $5 each month to avoid installation of the wireless devices. Commissioners say they plan to revisit the fees over time to reassess whether ratepayers are paying an appropriate portion of the cost and to consider what opt-out fees could be charged for apartment buildings.

PG&E began installing the digital meters in 2006, and in the last year about 90,000 of the utility’s approximately 5 million customers have asked to be put on a delayed installation schedule. PG&E forecasts about 150,000 will opt out overall, said Senior Vice President Helen Burt.

“We’re accepting requests immediately because we understand our customers’ desire to choose the meters at their homes,” Burt said. “We need and want to respect those with concerns.”

A variety of utilities across the country have torn out analog meters and adopted the new technology in recent years, and some got federal financial support through stimulus grants aimed at building a modern, resilient electrical grid.

Some California customers have gone so far as to block installation trucks or remove the devices from their homes. Critics say the meters emit radio-frequency microwave radiation similar to a cellphone that is harmful to people’s health.

PG&E cites a study showing the radio frequency falls well below the federal threshold.

Sudi Scull said she developed painful headaches and ringing in her ears after PG&E installed a SmartMeter on her house in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood. The utility ultimately gave back her analog meter, but she said the pain returned when SmartMeters were installed on her neighbors’ homes.

“My neighbors can ill-afford opt out fees so I can afford to live in my house,” Scull testified. “Let PG&E executives and shareholders incur the costs of an opt-out program.”

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.)

Comments (4)
  1. Elliott the Cat says:

    PG& E & SMUD are Criminals, Thieves & Part of the 1% ripping of the rest of the world.

    You should be able to opt out for free, How do they come up with $10.00 extra a month when it use to be that way for free the last 30 years.

    And i time $75.00 fee , it only takes 10 min to switch it out !

  2. Scott says:

    I love how the media doesnt report the facts. #1. the meter admits for 3 seconds….far longer than most people talk on cell phones or use a WIRELESS router….#2 the Addition $10 fee for not using the service is to pay for the company to send a worker in a vehicle to read that meter….#3 the $10 fee is not something new….it was always there, just not labeled that way b/c it was implyied….but we are in america and people are stupid. I love this country but sometimes i really hate the people here who want everything without having to work or pay for it. Why did i serve in the Army.

  3. fred fisbin says:

    Looks like the CPUC is in the back pockets of PG&E.

    Since it supposedly cost $10 a month for low income and $15 a month for regular customers, then they should dedust the $15 a month from your bill if you have a smart meter! And what is the $75 charge up front to not replace the meter? Are we suppose to pay $75.00 for PG&E to do absoultly nothing?

    It’s not just the wireless, but the privacy factor in that they know what hours you are using how much electricity and what days.

    Eventually the crooks will figure out how to capture the smart meter info and know when you are not home and will rob your home!

    Someone needs to sue the CPUC as they are not looking out for the citizens!

  4. Dan V. says:

    The $75 upfront fee and the $10 monthly fee for those who choose to “opt out” of the “SmartMeter” program, is clearly and blatantly an EXTORTION fee. Switching to the new meter is an offer we can’t refuse lest we pay the extortion “fee”. PG&E might as well be charging its customers for “insurance” prtection like the old mob families used to do years ago in the big cities of the east coast. What an offer … “you do it our way, or you pay a fee for being allowed to do it the old way. I can’t make any sense of how or why PG&E is being allowed to do this to the American consumer. Where is the justice in this?

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