Websites run by opponents of Pacific Gas & Electric's wireless SmartMeter program are atwitter with talk that fees charged to people who keep analog meters have been suspended by the California Public Utilities Commission. But the CPUC says that is not the case.
Edward Hasbrouck of San Francisco claims PGE didn't meet CPUC requirements for adequately informing him of the fee, $75 for setup and $10 per month to cover labor costs for PG&E meter readers. The CPUC requires that utility companies serve documentation of any rate changes or out-of-the-ordinary fees to customers prior to billing.
“Proposed fees for those who opt-out of having a SmartMeter...have been suspended (at least for now) as a result of procedural errors by PG&E and the CPUC in handling my protest of the proposal," wrote Hasbrouck on his blog on April 20.
The fee was set to kick in May 1, which PG&E to join the 20,000 Northern California residents already on the “keep my analog meter” list. The list began forming after the that utility companies make an option available to people who don't want to be part of the switch to SmartMeters.
Hasbrouck received an “advice letter” in early April outlining the charges for keeping his analog meter. He responded with a protest letter and claimed that was when the utility company failed in their duty to communicate by not responding to his protest letter. Stopsmartmeters! Director Josh Hart said this makes it illegal for the charges to begin at this point and wants them repealed.
“What is clear is that the fees are not in effect yet,” said Hart. “The policy has been suspended and PG&E cannot start charging opt-out fees. But the CPUC wont admit that publicly because it would show how half-baked the opt-out policy was in the first place.”
The opt-out fee situation remains anything but clear. CPUC spokesperson Andrew Kotch, told Patch in an email that the fees had not been suspended, and the opt-out policy hasn't changed due to the Hasbrouck controversy.
PG&E spokesperson Greg Snapper said Tuesday that as far as the utility knows, the fees had not been suspended. He added that customers can join the opt-out list anytime, he said, even as the publicly-stated deadline was passing.
“Our customers can opt-out at anytime,” said Snapper. “We are taking opt-outs today.”
Snapper said that the perception that a failure to notify customers of fees would prevent their appearance on May service charges is incorrect.
“The program is as functional as it ever has been,” Snapper said.
Santa Cruz County and the City Of Capitola both have moratoriums against SmartMeters on the books, but have asked law enforcement not to actively stop installations. Both agencies said the financial risk of battling PG&E in court one-on-one is too risky, especially with budgets shrinking four years running.
Santa Cruz County has joined Marin, the town of Fairfax and several others under representation by attorney Jim Tobin to fight PG&E together. Tobin said he is unsure whether the fees were suspended or not. He filed a motion Monday to halt any further installations or fees until he and his clients are given a clear statement on the fee question.
“I've called people at the CPUC and they haven't gotten back to me,” said Tobin. “I have seen a CPUC email that indicates they are suspending the fee, but that hasn't been reflected on their website.”
Hart said the confusion shows how badly the CPUC and PG&E have handled the switch to wireless meters and their duty to inform customers of any service or rate changes.