Smart meters installed by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. are performing accurately, according to an independent study released Thursday, despite thousands of consumer complaints, The Los Angeles Times reports.
Customers began complaining of high energy bills this spring almost as soon as PG&E started installing the smart meters. As of Aug. 15, the state utilities commission had received 4,471 complaints and inquiries regarding the PG&E meters, compared with just 88 for San Diego Gas & Electric and 169 for Southern California Edison.
Utilities use the meters to remotely determine household energy use, enabling them to charge more for power during peak demand.
Houston-based energy and utility consultancy The Structure Group administered the study, which included tests in laboratories and in the field, according to Greentech Grid. The group also reviewed 1,378 complaints about the meters and conducted in-depth interviews with customers.
The $1.4 million audit, for which PG&E is reimbursing the agency, determined that the utility could have done a better job communicating with and notifying customers about smart meter installation.
“In some cases, customers experienced multiple cancelled bills followed by re-billing, which exacerbated customer confusion and frustration. In addition, customers indicated to Structure that there was a lack of communication and notification from PG&E about their smart meter installation,” the CPUC said of Structure’s findings. The report also said that the CPUC’s handling of certain consumer complaints created confusion for the customer when the CPUC deemed the complaint closed even though the customer was still not satisfied with or did not understand PG&E’s resolution of their complaint,” Greentech Grid reports.
Several municipalities in Northern California have already asked regulators to prevent the meters from being installed until accuracy issues are sorted out.
The meters, which transmit energy use data to the utilities, have also sparked health worries about radiation levels. The utilities commission has received around 2,000 such complaints, mostly from Northern California.
For several days last week, residents of Santa Cruz County protested what they called “forced installation” of smart meters on private property, with some expressing worries that the radiation could lead to brain cancer. Watsonville and Fairfax passed laws banning the meters within city limits.
According to PG&E CEO Peter Darbee, the company analyzed emissions from cell phones compared with smart meters positioned 10 feet away from a person and found that “emissions received from a cell phone are 13,000 times more than [from] a smart meter,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “You have to live in a home for 13,000 years before it compares to use of a cell phone for a year.”