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PG&E’s Smart Meter Opt-Out Plan Carries Big Price Tag

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A PG&E SmartMeter. (CBS)

A PG&E SmartMeter. (CBS)

CBS SF Bay (con't)

Affordable Care Act Updates: CBSSanFrancisco.com/ACA

Health News & Information: CBSSanFrancisco.com/Health

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS/AP) – Pacific Gas and Electric Co. is proposing to allow residents to switch off the wireless signals on their utility meters for a fee, but opponents of the devices aren’t satisfied.

PG&E has submitted a proposal that would charge customers an up front fee, plus monthly fees and an exit fee, for customers who want to opt out of the utility’s SmartMeter program.

The company submitted its proposal on Thursday to the California Public Utilities Commission in response to a March 10 order from the commission’s president requiring PG&E to provide options for residents with concerns about the SmartMeters.

Opponents of the wireless devices, which are meant to reduce energy consumption by monitoring utility use and transmitting the information in real time, argue the radio frequency waves emitted by the meters are detrimental to their health.

PG&E’s proposal would give customers the option of having PG&E turn off or disable the radios inside their SmartMeters, which would eliminate the radio frequency, according to company.

KCBS’ Barbara Taylor Reports:

The utility proposed charging $135 to $270 up front to have an employee turn off the meters, plus a $14 to $20 monthly fee to keep it off. Customers could choose to pay a per-kilowatt-hour fee instead of the fixed monthly fee.

PG&E would also charge customers an exit fee when they terminate service so future customers could use the SmartMeters.

The utility estimated that about 145,800 customers could choose to have the meters turned off over the next two years, causing an estimated $84.4 million in capital costs and expenses.

The costs include sending personnel to turn off the meters, sending meter readers to manually check the modified meters every month, and upgrading the rest of the SmartMeter radio frequency network to compensate for any network degradation caused by the turned-off radios.

Customers can also ask to have their SmartMeters moved to different locations on their property at estimated costs of $2,500 to $4,500 for overhead-meter customers and $6,000 to $11,000 for underground customers.

As of March 1, the utility had installed 7.7 million gas and

electric SmartMeters, which it says only transmit radio waves for milliseconds at a time and for very short durations.

The company estimates exposure to the low-frequency waves total about 45 seconds every 24 hours – much less than cell phones and microwave ovens.

Some residents remain skeptical of PG&E’s estimates, though, and say a more thorough independent review should be done before the SmartMeters are thrust upon them.

Speakers packed a CPUC meeting in San Francisco on Thursday and described health conditions they and their loved ones had suffered since the SmartMeters were installed. Many called the proposed charges a form of extortion.

“I shouldn’t have to pay more for the right to opt out of irradiation,” Petaluma resident Dana Davis said before details of the proposed fee structure had been released.

Davis said she didn’t have a SmartMeter and didn’t want one, while other residents described experiencing migraines, heart palpitations, and sleep problems after receiving the devices.

Some speakers questioned the effectiveness of the proposed opt-out program in reducing radiation given that other meters would be modified to compensate for those that had been disabled.

The National Cancer Institute has not found conclusive evidence that radio frequency radiation is associated with risks of developing cancer.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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