PG&E Smart Meters Under Fire

October 21, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The hearing called by State Senator Dean Florez drew a standing room only crowd of folks upset about their PG&E bills. Florez opened the Fresno meeting saying, "We really would like to get to the bottom of some of these skyrocketing power bills."Cynthia Baldwin is among many Fresno customers who saw their bills double, tripled or even quadruple over the summer. She said, "How did my bill go from 3 hundred dollars to almost 11 hundred, it didn't make such sense."

The steep rate jumps occurred as PG&E installed Smart Meters in hundreds of thousands of homes in the Central Valley this summer. The utility claims it's not the meters that caused the increase in electric bills, but rate hikes approved by the state, that the public may not have been aware of.

PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith explained that, "PG&E did a terrible job of explaining the rate increase that took place in March, and the impact that was going to have on customer bills, especially in the summer."

PG&E insists the meters are accurate but Mark Toney of TURN, The Utility Reform Network says there could be a number of problems in the Smart Meter system. He said, "It's possible the meters are reading correctly but somewhere in the system before somebody gets the bill there's a breakdown. We need to find out and ratepayers deserve an answer as to what the problem is and how to fix it."

The state Public Utilities Commission has ordered PG&E to respond to customer complaints by inspecting and testing the computerized Smart Meters.

PG&E notes that many customers do not understand the billing system, which consists of 5 levels. In the first level, Fresno customers pay on 11 cents per kilowatt hour used. But in the 5th level, or tier, it rises to 44 cents per kilowatt hour. On a hot day with the air conditioning on, usage can quickly rise into the higher tiers. The rate hike approved by the PUC in March affected only the top tiers, thus resulting in dramatic increases for many customers.



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