California Senator Questions Value of PG&E Smart Meters
By: SGN Staff
California State Senator Dean Florez (D-Shafter), in response to numerous complaints from consumers regarding high utility bills, has scheduled a hearing in early October to bring together consumers and representatives from Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and the state's Public Utilities Commission. The senator has asked for proof from PG&E that a single utility customer has saved money with a smart meter.
In a statement issued last week, a PG&E spokesperson said smart meters do not affect utility rates, but do give customers more detailed information about their electricity use that can help them manage their energy costs. The spokesperson contended that 87% of customers who enrolled in PG&E's SmartRate program have saved money on their bills.
While smart meters are widely considered to have proven their cost effectiveness, Florez noted that the sheer number of complaints he received encouraged him to question if they are truly worthwhile. Apparently, some consumers complained that their electric bills are three times higher than they were last summer.
While the utility has not applied for Smart Grid stimulus funds to help pay for its $2.2 billion project to install about 10 million smart electric and gas meters for its customers by 2011, it has asked for a $42.5 million stimulus grant to deploy installers and controllers for roughly 75,000 commercial and industrial customers.
The senator said he also wants to find out how much of the $2.2 billion meter rollout project cost is passed along to consumers, and added that he hopes the hearing will clear the air surrounding finger pointing between PG&E and the PUC regarding high energy costs. The PUC authorized a rate increase for the utility in March 2009.The PUC has declined to comment on the issues Florez raised.
Quick Take: With so many of the requests for stimulus money targeting smart meters, these issues will likely be repeated many times in the months ahead. Energy customers and PUCs around the country are going to want answers - and getting everyone in the same room to talk it out sounds like a smart approach.