Customers have to pay up to opt out of PG&E SmartMeters 

Don’t want a SmartMeter at your home? It will cost you.

Residential customers would be charged between $135 and $270 to have their SmartMeters switched to "radio off," then charged $20 or more every month thereafter to keep the radio signal off.

SmartMeter opponents who initially felt triumphant over a mandate that PG&E allow people to opt out of the controversial meter-reading technology expressed frustration about the details of the plan released Thursday.

PG&E has already installed some 7.7 million new meters statewide and expects to complete the process by the end of 2012. Like the old meters, SmartMeters measure electricity and gas consumption. But old meters had to be read manually, while the new ones can be monitored remotely.

Utility company officials said the new meters will save money, prevent fraud and help people save energy.

But a growing number of residents have complained that the radio frequency emitted by the meters gives them headaches and other health problems. Others worry the technology can be hacked, or leak information about whether residents are home and what kind of appliances they use.

After years of protests, this month regulators at the California Public Utilities Commission required PG&E to provide an opt-out option for customers.

According to documents released late Thursday, that option will only be available to residents, not businesses. PG&E has not committed to removing the meters, but it will deactivate the radios embedded in them. Company officials outlined a number of payment options, all of which charge a one-time upfront fee and a monthly fee of either $20 or a cost based on usage.

Before the details were released, dozens of activists at a CPUC meeting praised regulators for finally mandating an opt-out option. But they said it doesn’t go far enough, saying the public should not have to pay to avoid exposure to radiation.

Marti Kheel, a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley, said that in apartment complexes, the meters are clumped together. She described one situation in which 180 meters are directly outside a woman’s apartment, and said not many people living in apartments are likely to pay to opt out.

"This woman will not be helped by being exposed to 178 meters instead of 180," she said.

Kheel said the CPUC should impose a moratorium on the new meters and perhaps require that they be removed.

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Katie Worth

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