On Thursday in The New York Times, I write about an independent report that finds that PG&E’s smart meters are not responsible for higher utility bills incurred by some customers:
After Pacific Gas & Electric, the giant California utility, began installing smart meters in the state’s Central Valley, the company was swamped with complaints from residents that their utility bills had increased.
But an independent review of the smart meters released Thursday found that the devices were functioning properly and attributed the high charges to a heat wave last year that coincided with their installation as well as poor customer service by P.G.&.E.
“They are accurately recording usage and throughout our evaluation we found no systemic issues,” Stacey Wood, an executive with the Structure Group, a Houston consulting company, said on Thursday at a meeting of the California Public Utilities Commission. “We did identify there were weakness in the focus on customer service.”
The utilities commission hired the Structure Group to conduct test P.G.&.E’s smart meters and conduct a technical review.
The digital devices wirelessly transmit data on a home’s electricity and natural gas usage to utilities while allowing residents to monitor their electricity consumption in real time. Smart meters are considered a linchpin for the development of a smart power grid and tens of millions of the gadgets are set to be installed nationwide in coming years.
But the rollout has been anything but smooth in California, where nearly 10 million smart meters will be deployed.
“By the fall of 2009, the C.P.U.C. had received over 600 smart meter consumer complaints about ‘unexpectedly high’ bills and allegations that the new electric smart meters were not accurately recording electric usage, almost all of which were from P.G.&E.’s service area,” according to the Structure Report.
The consulting firm said it then tested more than 750 smart meters in the laboratory and in the field and reviewed utility account records for 1,378 customers, including those that had complained of abnormally high bills.
“Of the 613 smart meter field tests, 611 meters were successfully tested, and 100 percent passed average registration accuracy,” the report stated.
The study attributed some residents’ higher bills to a 2009 heat wave in Kern County as well as increased electricity usage due to new swimming pools or additions to their homes.
Then there was P.G.&E.’s handling of the controversy.
“P.G.&E. processes did not address the customer concerns associated with the new equipment and usage changes,” the report said. “Customer skepticism regarding the new advanced meter technology was not effectively addressed by P.G.&E. on a timely basis.”
You can read the rest of the story here.