By Jesse Berst
Quick Take: If we are going to protect the rights of those who opt-out, don't we also have to protect those who opt-in? If we're going to protect the rights of the minority, don't we have to protect the rights of the majority as well? Read this story about Sebastopol, CA and then use the Comment form to tell me if you agree that it could be a case of a minority oppressing the majority.
A small California town has successfully prevented PG&E from installing smart meters inside its boundaries. On Feb. 21, the Sebastopol City Council voted to ban smart meters, which Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) has installed almost everywhere else inside its service territory.
A few hours after the vote, a resident called the police to report a PG&E employee installing a meter. The police responded and ordered him to stop or face a fine.
PG&E found itself between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, the Sebastopol ordinance is almost certainly unenforceable under California's utility regulations. In fact, the California PUC sent a letter to the city council calling the ban "unlawful and unenforceable."
But even though it had the law on its side, PG&E didn't want to put itself in the position of "invading" a small town. So it has decided to delay installing any more smart meters for a while. And Sebastopol has agreed to stop enforcing its new legislation.
A standoff for now. In the meantime, PG&E will try various means to persuade residents to support smart meters. I suspect that many of them already do, and many more will as well once they understand the benefits.
I understand the desire by some people to opt-out. They don't want to be forced by the majority to do something against their values. I support that right, as long as they pay the extra costs that their decision incurs (so the rest of us don't have to subsidize their fringe beliefs).
But what about the residents of Sebastopol who want the additional information, control and choice that comes from smart meters? Why should they be locked away from those benefits just because a minority is opposed? Please use the Comment form below to say what you think is the right solution.
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Jesse Berst is the founder and chief analyst of Smart Grid News.com, the industry's oldest and largest smart grid site. A frequent keynoter at industry events in the U.S. and abroad, he also serves on advisory committees for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Institute for Electric Efficiency. He often provides strategic consulting to large corporations and venture-backed startups. He is a member of the advisory boards of GridGlo and Calico Energy Services.