Drowning out a chorus of boos and hisses from angry audience members, the state’s utility watchdog approved a plan Wednesday that would charge fees to residents who want to opt-out of PG&E’s contentious SmartMeter program.
Residents who elect to abstain from the digital energy readers will have to pay a one-time fee of $75 and a subsequent monthly bill of $10, as part of the plan authorized by the California Public Utilities Commission.
Low-income residents who qualify for utility subsidies will have to pay a one-time fee of $10 and a monthly fee of $5 if they don’t want to participate in the SmartMeter program.
More than 60 speakers spoke out against SmartMeters at the hearing, saying the digital readers caused health problems, were an invasion of privacy and weren’t proven to be accurate. Several speakers said that residents shouldn’t have to pay opt-out fees for a program they never wanted to join.
“I should be able to live in my house, and my property, without unwanted devices put in there by extortion,” said Garril Page, a Marin County resident.
When the unanimous decision of the four members on the commission was finalized, numerous people shouted out that all the commissioners should be fired, and a chant of “we say no fee, charge the utility,” broke out as audience members exited the CPUC auditorium.
“CPUC is clearly in support of PG&E,” said Amy Coulter, a San Leandro resident. “It didn’t matter what people said today. They had already made up their minds.”
PG&E has said it needs to charge the fees in order to support two different energy networks, the new digital SmartMeters, and the older analog systems.
Greg Snapper, a PG&E spokesman, said the CPUC’s action Wednesday was fair and allowed the utility and its
customers to move forward.
Even though the audience was infuriated with the CPUC’s decision, the opt-out fees approved Wednesday were lower than earlier agency proposals and much less expensive than PG&E’s original recommendation. Last month, the CPUC recommended one-time opt-out fees of $90, and PG&E initially wanted to charge customers as much as $270.
PG&E has hailed its digital SmartMeter technology — which shows users directly how much energy they’re using — as an efficient and reliable way to relay power consumption.