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'Advanced meters' proposed for Paso 

Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) wants to rig roughly 10,000 homes and businesses in Paso Robles with wireless transmitters to monitor natural gas consumption.

Representatives from the company presented their proposal at the Aug. 7 City Council meeting. According to SoCalGas District Manager Tim Mahoney, the meters would provide a more accurate picture of a home’s energy use, giving consumers information they could use to increase efficiency and save dollars. Four times a day, the wireless meter reader would send a half-second transmission to nine data collection units (DCUs) scattered throughout the city, mounted on street lights or tall poles. The DCUs would then relay the information to SoCalGas’s back office for billing. All in all, the meters and DCUs will only operate for 2 1/2 minutes over the course of a year, he said.

Gas users will foot the bill for installation of the advanced meters via a monthly fee that will rise and fall over 25 years, peaking at an additional $2 per bill. Consumers can opt out for a one-time fee of $70 to $100 and an extra $10 charge every month.

Mahoney’s words were carefully chosen in an effort to alleviate concerns and sidestep the uproar that surrounded Pacific Gas and Electric’s controversial SmartMeters. He quickly corrected anyone who described his meters as “smart,” and his slick PowerPoint presentation had slides comparing advanced meters to cell phones, which he said produced a million times more radio frequency. Also, advanced meters have no two-way communications and no “kill switch” to shut the gas off automatically, Mahoney said.

His efforts were in vain, though. Several residents spoke against the proposal to add more radio waves to an increasingly wireless world, and they cited reports that suggest it’s dangerous stuff. Some were fearful that excessive energy tracking could be used in the future to punish people who use more than their allotted share.

“This whole thing reeks of Agenda 21,” Aaron Dilbeck said. “And it’s unfortunate that I’ll have to pay $100 for them to do nothing.”

The council voted unanimously to authorize City Attorney Iris Yang to negotiate a licensing agreement with SoCalGas for installation of the new meters and to draft an ordinance that would regulate the design of antennas and utility poles. Both items will come back to the council for final approval.

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