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Is a Smart Meter opt-out plan in the works? 

Talk about a bad couple of weeks for Pacific Gas & Electric.

On March 10, California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey tasked PG&E to come up with a way for customers to opt out of its controversial Smart Meter program.

In a move that surprised fellow commissioners, Peevey, the head of the state’s regulatory agency for private utility companies, requested that the utility draft a proposal outlining how customers can refuse installation of the wireless meters at their home or business.

The company maintains that wireless Smart Meters are safe, reliable, far more efficient than analog meters, and are a crucial step in developing the state’s “Smart Grid.” Critics, however, contend they track private energy usage data, have resulted in bloated energy bills, and may cause health problems.

Citing “some of the emotion around this issue,” Peevey said it was “time for some kind of movement in the direction of a customer opt-out.”

CPUC Information Officer Andrew Kotch told New Times that PG&E has until March 24 to submit its proposal, but as it stands, no formal proceedings are planned. And any repercussions PG&E could face for missing that deadline is unclear.

“[Peevey] simply directed them to come back
with some sort of solution, so we’ll have to see,” Kotch said.

According to PG&E Spokesman Jeff Smith, the utility is working on its proposal and expects to meet the CPUC’s deadline.

Smith said that a possible opt-out program is something PG&E has been “thinking about for a long time,” in light of the number of concerned customers. He said he couldn’t comment on the details of any proposal prior to its submission to the CPUC.

“We have heard from our customers on the issue for a while now,” Smith said. “We understand they have concerns, and while the science shows that Smart Meters are not dangerous, we certainly want to make sure we’re being responsive to our customers.”

But the announcement was hardly the end-game many have been calling for. Peevey’s mention of possible costs to opt out of the program drew numerous boos and harrumphs from the audience at the commission meeting.

The utility began installing Smart Meters in San Luis Obispo County in late November. As of late December, roughly 13,000 meters have been installed in Paso Robles, 8,600 in Atascadero, and 1,300 in Templeton. The city of Morro Bay passed a resolution in December expressing concerns over the wireless meters. In March, the SLO County Board of Supervisors sent a letter to the CPUC requesting a stay in installations while legislation mandating PG&E to identify other customer options to Smart Meters makes its way through the State Assembly.

PG&E is scheduled to hold a public workshop regarding the Smart Meter program from 6 to 8 p.m. on March 30 at the San Luis Obispo County Library.

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