Herrera seeks immediate halt to PG&E’s SmartMeter fiasco

City Attorney urges CPUC Commissioners to ‘do their job,’ halt deployment of problem-plagued electric meters during investigation
PG&E SmartMeter CPUC Petition presskit (June 17, 2010)
PG&E SmartMeter CPUC Petition presskit (June 17, 2010)

SAN FRANCISCO (June 17, 2010) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera today petitioned the California Public Utilities Commission to immediately suspend its authorization for PG&E to continue installing so-called “SmartMeters” until state regulators conclude their investigation into whether the problem-plagued meters currently being deployed by the state’s largest utility are accurate. Mounting evidence points to disturbingly high error rates with the devices, which are supposed to measure power usage and wirelessly transmit the data to PG&E. But since the SmartMeter deployment program began last summer, increasing numbers of PG&E ratepayers have blamed the new devices for dramatic and inexplicable spikes in their utility bills, and PG&E has itself acknowledged problems with the meters.

PG&E has already installed some 5.8 million SmartMeters throughout its service territory, and plans to install another 3.9 million — despite CPUC’s independent and ongoing investigation, which it launched after receiving hundreds of consumer complaints statewide. The petition Herrera filed with the CPUC today notes that PG&E has itself admitted to problems with SmartMeters that could affect the accuracy of their readings, effectively acknowledging that tens of thousands of PG&E customers are currently receiving inaccurate bills.

“Common sense should argue against installing millions of defective SmartMeters until their problems are fixed, and questions about their accuracy are fully resolved,” said Herrera. “Unfortunately, when a company lacks common sense, it means regulators need to do their job to protect the public interest. The CPUC is charged with policing utility services, and making sure that ratepayers can be confident that what they’re charged for electricity service is just and reasonable. Until CPUC’s investigation is concluded, prudence dictates that PG&E’s ongoing SmartMeter program be halted, so we can be confident that the problems are fixed.”

The City’s petition, which requests that the CPUC modify its 2007 decision authorizing PG&E to include the costs associated with SmartMeters in its rates, describes the accuracy of billing ratepayers as a “fundamental responsibility” of both the utility and the commission charged with its oversight. According to Herrera’s petition:

“Ensuring the accuracy of electric bills is a fundamental responsibility of PG&E and the Commission under California law. Receiving a timely and correct bill from PG&E is the least a customer is entitled to expect. Customers should not be in the position of wondering whether their bills are accurate or whether the equipment installed by PG&E is working properly. The Commission is required to ensure that utility customers pay just and reasonable charges for electric service. Until the Commission concludes its investigation, and determines that the problems with PG&E’s SmartMeters have been resolved, the Commission cannot vouchsafe that bills based on SmartMeter readings are just and reasonable.”

Though Herrera’s is the first formal petition to the CPUC seeking to suspend PG&E’s authorization to continue installing SmartMeters, a number of consumer protection advocates have urged similar regulatory remedies. Among those pushing state regulators to be more aggressive in protecting consumers from the defective and inaccurate metering devices are California State Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez (D-Shafter); the nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, The Utility Reform Network, or TURN; the City of Cotati, Calif.; the Town of Fairfax, Calif.; and the City and County of San Francisco.

The petition and motion for expedited treatment are made in the “Application of Pacific Gas and Electric Company for Authority to Increase Revenue Requirements to Recover the Costs to Upgrade its SmartMeter Program,” before the Public Utilities Commission of the State of California, Application No. 07-12-009, filed December 12, 2007.