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?
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