Fairfax Tries to Ban Smart Meters

Can cities draft laws to ban the installation of smart meters? Well, it’s up for debate in Fairfax, Calif., where last week the city council approved the decision to create a law to stop utility PG&E from installing smart meters and the wireless antennas that transmit electricity data back to the utility’s office. Remember that Fairfax is also one of the towns behind Marin Clean Energy project, a clean power electricity program that would provide an alternative for PG&E, and which PG&E reportedly spent $46 million trying to block via the recently-defeated Prop 16.

According to Fairfax city council’s notes of the meeting last week, the council “agreed to have staff bring back a draft ordinance at the next meeting banning the installation of Smart Meters in Fairfax.” The Fairfax council also said it plans to piggy-back the request from San Francisco’s City Attorney Dennis Herrera to California’s energy regulators the CPUC that would stop PG&E from installing any more smart meters until a third-party investigation into the accuracy of the meters has been completed.

A PG&E spokesperson tells the Contra Costa Times that PG&E doesn’t have to seek permits for installing smart meters and that the city council doesn’t have the authority to implement a ban, only the CPUC can make that ruling.

As I wrote about the San Francisco City Attorney’s request back in June, I’m surprised that these calls for smart meter moratoriums are still going on. PG&E publicly apologized in May acknowledging its poor customer relations, and released a massive report on the smart meter project, including the fact that 99 percent of the digital smart meters have had no problems, while 3 percent of analog meters have proved to have inconsistencies. However, 1 percent of a total planned 5 million smart meters installed from PG&E could result in 50,000 customers being impacted.

If you haven’t been following the backlash in select locations over smart meters, basically a handful of customers have been complaining that recently installed smart meters are responsible for unfair higher bills. The consternation has even resulted in a lawsuit in Bakersfield (PG&E’s territory) as well as one in Dallas (Oncor’s territory). While specific tech problems can easily be dealt with, the greater issue is a lack of customer outreach and an inability of utilities to adequately explain the benefits of smart meters to customers.

In Fairfax, the city council’s complaints are a couple steps even beyond these previously raised issues (and in my opinion borderline tin foil hat society). Beyond the accuracy of the meters, the Fairfax city council is worried that the radio signals could be a health hazard and that smart meters would put meter readers out of a job. The main issue (to me) seems to be that Fairfax and PG&E have a very contentious relationship.

For more information on smart meter consumer programs, check out GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

Making Smart Meters the Must-Have Gadget of the Year

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