The California Public Utilities Commission today received the results of an independent report on PG&E’s SmartMeter program before holding a commission meeting in San Francisco where more people came to criticize the controversial meters.
The report, conducted by The Structure Group, an energy consulting firm based in Texas, determined the meters are performing accurately but pointed to the utility’s customer service practices as a cause of increased complaints about the program.
The SmartMeters, which send energy usage information wirelessly, began being installed last year and are expected to be rolled out to all PG&E customers by mid-2012.
The report was prompted by more than 600 customer complaints about high bills and allegations that the meters were not accurately recording energy usage.
The report said the SmartMeters “are accurately recording electric usage within acceptable CPUC tolerances, and are being accurately utilized in customer billing.”
The report said recent rate hikes coincided with a heat wave in California that caused bills to be higher than usual for new SmartMeter customers.
However, the report pointed to PG&E’s customer service problems, including insufficiently addressing customer questions about SmartMeters, billing errors, and a lack of communication about installation of the meters, which “furthered customer perception that SmartMeters may not have been accurate.”
CPUC President Michael Peevey said in a statement that he was “happy to hear that PG&E’s SmartMeters are functioning properly but disturbed by PG&E’s lack of customer service and responsiveness.”
PG&E Senior Vice President Helen Burt said the utility is “pleased that The Structure Group’s detailed analysis confirms the integrity of our meter program and provides assurance to customers that our meter readings are accurate.”
She said the company agreed with the report’s criticism of PG&E’s failure to address concerns on a timely basis and has “taken steps to address that real shortfall in our program.”
The CPUC held a regularly scheduled meeting in San Francisco this morning, and about a dozen people spoke out against the meters. Those critics mostly talked about health concerns, though, rather than the accuracy issues addressed by the report.
Ellie Marks, director of government and public affairs for the group Environmental Health Trust, said the radio frequency from the meters causes health problems and compared them to cell phones and cell towers.
“All produce radiation,” Marks said. “The CPUC and citizens have a right to know the truth.”
San Francisco and several other Bay Area cities have called for a halt to the installation of SmartMeters due to health concerns and other issues with the meters.
Following the release of today’s report, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce called on San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera to reconsider the city’s call for a moratorium of the SmartMeter technology.
“Based on the findings of this report, we can now move forward with confidence to implement smart grid technology in California to the benefit of consumers, our economy and our environment,” Jim Lazarus, the chamber’s vice president of public policy, said in a statement. “We hope the City Attorney reads this report and makes the correct decision to drop this unwise and expensive action.”