Will Independent Audit Cool California Smart Meter Controversy?

The caution displayed by the Maryland Public Service Commission over BG&E’s smart meter proposal can be explained, in part, by the debate over Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) installation in California.

Some Californians are even taking to the streets:

Thursday morning, about a dozen people launched a demonstration against the SmartMeters at a Pleasure Point vehicle yard where a contractor for PG&E has been staging for the installations. The demonstrators claimed success in keeping installation trucks from leaving the facility and vowed to return daily until the county’s SmartMeter moratorium becomes official.

Elected officials in Santa Cruz County have taken up the challenge and are confronting the state’s Public Utilities Commission:

“It’s hard to feel like we can wait and let the PUC do its job,” county Supervisor John Leopold told PUC supervisor Marzia Zafar. “We’re going to take any action we can to ensure citizens of this community have protection.”

Health concerns have grabbed the public’s attention.  The smart meters being installed by PG&E send data by emitting the same kind of radiation as cell phones do.

San Francisco petitioned the PUC to halt installations pending an independent review of the accuracy of the meters.  PG&E has installed over six million smart meters (both gas and electric) and is on target to install 10 million by 2012.  The utility is struggling to overcome a major lack of public trust.  The Mercury News continues:

But after months of insisting that there were no problems with the meters and that high bills could be traced to rate increases or air conditioning use during hot summer months, PG&E acknowledged some technical glitches with the program in April, including 23,000 gas meters that were installed improperly, 11,376 electric meters that failed to retain consumer usage information, and 9,000 electric meters that had trouble connecting with the wireless network.

The results of an independent review are now in and support the position of the utilities and the PUC.  The report can be found here.  USA Today reports:

The Structure Consulting Group of Houston, selected by the California Public Utilities Commission to review PG&E’s meters, found the meters more accurate than old ones. It also backed up PG&E’s claims that a 2009 heat wave and rate increases, one up to 23%, combined to radically boost bills.

According to the Mercury News, the reported noted the bad relations between the utility and its customers:

The 400-page report, released Thursday, blasted PG&E’s customer service culture, finding that customers were “consistently treated by PG&E as wrong, until the customer proved to PG&E that they were right.”

The dispute is centered in northern California — the state PUC has received many fewer complaints in the southern half of the state where a different utility operates.  The report did not address the health concerns about EMF radiation that is the latest topic to take off.

Smart meter deployment across the country is fueled by federal funding and involves major corporate players:

The SmartMeters are made by General Electric and the Swiss company Landis+Gyr. Redwood City-based Silver Spring Networks, a venture-backed company that counts several of the nation’s leading utility companies as clients, provides the communications software.

One can only hope that Maryland’s utilities will take advantage of the opportunity to learn from California’s mistakes.

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