Blog Post

San Francisco City Attorney Calls for Halt on PG&E Smart Meters

San Francisco’s City Attorney Dennis Herrera has asked California’s energy regulators to stop PG&E from installing any more smart meters until a third party investigation into the accuracy of the meters has been completed reports the San Jose Mercury News. The issue of whether or not PG&E should stop installing smart meters while it deals with its public relations nightmare around its smart meters has been swirling around the controversy for months, but I’m surprised that it has risen to the level of the City Attorney.

As PG&E has admitted, and publicly-apologized for, the utility approached its planned 10 million smart meter program largely as an infrastructure project and failed to communicate the benefits and purpose of the meters to residents. As I reported after reading through PG&E’s 800-page report, PG&E spent very little time early on planning how to deal with customers.

As a result (or exacerbating the matter, however you see it) a variety of customers have complained about higher rates on bills as well questioned the accuracy of the meters. A law suit was even filed in Bakersfield, Calif. PG&E has started working on an independent investigation and, albeit belatedly, has now attempted to address customer concerns.

But PG&E hasn’t halted installing meters, and is still installing meters at a rate of 10,000 meters a day. At most events I’ve been to about this issue, someone asks why PG&E won’t stop installing meters while it finishes an audit. Well, that’s because despite the fact that PG&E admitted some minimal errors in its smart meter installations (significantly less than non-smart meters), PG&E and its partners say it’s not a technology issue and that the meters are accurate. Stopping the installation wouldn’t solve anything and just delay the project, says PG&E.

The bigger problem is PG&E doesn’t hold the hearts and minds of its customers. The utility reportedly spent $46 million supporting a Proposition in the latest election that sought to prohibit local governments from getting into the electricity industry and that Prop was ultimately defeated. To residents that already see the utility in a negative light refusing to halt installing meters before a third party audit comes in, looks like more of the same.

I’m not expecting the California Public Utilities Commission to listen to the City Attorney on this one and the CPUC hasn’t yet called for its own moratorium on the installation. But Herrera will probably be able to drum up yet more negative attention around the project. Now the question will be, has PG&E learned its PR lesson and will it be able to deal with it effectively this time around?

For more research on smart meters check out GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

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9 Responses to “San Francisco City Attorney Calls for Halt on PG&E Smart Meters”

  1. As it happens Certichron’s petition to the CPUC (P.1007015) will take care of most of these issues by mandating that all California SmartGrid systems must implement proper evidence capture systems compliant to the States Digital Evidence Standards.

    We strongly suggest that you write the ALJ’s at the CPUC and tell them that you think the Digital Evidence Standards are key issues for making the SmartGrid accountable for all.

    Todd Glassey
    [email protected]

  2. Dear Mr Herrera,

    Your recent actions regarding smart meters are misguided, misinformed and I believe that they are also disingenuous. Clearly PG&E is not the most popular company these days, so I can see how you would try to use the recent smart meter mishap and failed proposition for your own political gain. However to argue against the smart meter roll out is also to defend the status quo and to formalize the lack of innovation in the utility industry and electricity sector.

    Surely you have to be able to see that using the conventional meters where we send people to check them is a thing of the past. In fact we are the only developed nation to still do that. That is just a basic benefit of the automatic meter reading feature of smart meters. The current interaction that individuals have with the utility and our own consumption is once a month on the bill, which often times is only an estimate anyways because the meter reader can’t get in. The City of San Francisco often talks about “being green” or energy efficient. Why would you hold back the single most important tool for citizens to take charge and do something about their energy consumption.

    Really the main benefit of smart meters is not automated meter reading. It is empowering energy consumers with real time information about their usage so that they can first become aware of usage and then take action to reduce consumption. The smart meter platform can also be a great tool for people who chose to take an active role in their own energy reduction and to participate in critical demand response programs and share best practice with neighbors and who knows what else. Like the internet, an open platform has many possibilities for new applications that have not even been thought of yet.

    The position of the City on this issue is a barrier to innovation and can be a major setback for a technology and a platform that has the potential to revolutionize the role of consumers in the electricity system by empowering individuals. It is a shame that a so called “green city” like San Francisco cannot have the foresight to see that this is a very important issue and that the implication of its position reach well beyond the city and even California.

    Changing that way the people consume energy to more conscious and proactively managed usage requires a huge amount of public education. This cannot be done alone by the energy industry, and in fact, they might not have the ability to lead this transition. What we need is cities like San Francisco and California in general to lead on this front not just by ensuring the necessary framework, but also by participating actively in educating consumers about energy efficiency and how to use the new tools coming with the smart meter deployment. This is really an all hands on deck needed situation and the City of San Francisco is now standing in the way.

    I hope that you can educate yourself on the benefits of an intelligent electricity system and come to your senses about City policy in this area.