PG&E restores power to customers

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/12/16/BUSO1MDM61.DTL#ixzz1h6P8GqBF

PG&E restores power to SmartMeter protesters

By

David R. Baker, Chronicle Staff Writer

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Moving to end an embarrassing standoff, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. on Friday said it would restore power to a small group of customers who had removed their new SmartMeters out of fear the wireless devices were making them ill.

The decision affects roughly a half-dozen PG&E customers, most in Santa Cruz County, who paid electricians to replace the SmartMeters with more traditional, analog models. PG&E cut off their power in a bid to deter others from following suit.

At first, the utility insisted it would restore electricity only if those people agreed to let PG&E install another SmartMeter. On Thursday, the company offered a second option, saying customers could also choose a digital meter that lacked a wireless transmitter. But some of the SmartMeter opponents still held out, saying the digital meters contained a power-switching device that produced its own harmful emissions.

So on Friday, PG&E said it would restore power to the remaining homes, after first removing the unauthorized analog meters. Those houses will go without electricity and gas meters altogether until the California Public Utilities Commission decides whether to create an opt-out plan for people who don’t want the wireless SmartMeters. A commission vote on the issue could come in mid-January.

“This is a temporary solution for a very unique circumstance,” said PG&E spokesman Greg Snapper.

Until the vote, those customers will receive estimated bills based on their past use of electricity and natural gas.

“It’s a good thing – for now,” said Bianca Carn of Santa Cruz, whose power was cut off Tuesday. Her two children had been sleeping at their grandmother’s home ever since.

“I guess I can get the Christmas tree this weekend,” she said.

PG&E’s highly unusual move does not resolve the underlying dispute.

People convinced that the radiation from cell phones, laptop computers and other wireless devices can cause illness consider SmartMeters a grave public danger, and they have opposed PG&E’s $2.2 billion effort to install the meters throughout Northern and Central California. PG&E insists the meters are safe, and the idea that such wireless signals can affect human health remains the topic of fierce debate among researchers. The utilities commission will consider two possible opt-out plans. Neither one would let PG&E customers keep their old, analog meters. One plan would allow them to choose a SmartMeter with the transmitter turned off, while the other plan would let them pick a digital meter with no transmitter. Those customers would also pay additional fees, which PG&E says are necessary to pay for the meter readers who would collect their data in person.

Monise Sheehan of Aptos received one of the digital meters without a transmitter after she complained to PG&E about her SmartMeter. Soon after the wireless SmartMeter was installed, she said she started feeling a buzzing in her legs and arms and pressure in her head.

But the transmitter-free meter didn’t get rid of her symptoms, she said. Sheehan and other SmartMeter critics say a switching mode power supply within the digital meters produces a kind of electrical interference that can travel through a home’s wiring and affect people who are “electrosensitive.”

“It’s not a real option,” Sheehan said of the transmitter-free meter. “I ended up purchasing an analog, hiring an electrician and taking it out.”

PG&E decided to restore power after hearing from customers and public officials. California Sen. Joe Simitian spoke with PG&E executives and urged them to “take a step back and take a deep breath,” he said.

“I don’t have a problem with SmartMeters per se – I just thought this was over the top,” said Simitian, D-Palo Alto. “It’s inappropriate for a bill-paying customer to have their power cut off while there’s an ongoing process at the CPUC. It’s not like they can walk down the street and purchase power from another utility.”

E-mail David R. Baker at dbaker@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page D – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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