Michael Laybourn: Unsmart Meters and Mismanaged Utilities


Tip of the fedora to Greg Krause in Philo, who has an article about this same issue in the 12/15 AVA. I recently contacted a group called TURN (The Utility Reform Network) who keeps a close watch on utility energy companies. I first became aware of the group when PG&E tried to stuff that constitutional amendment down California’s throat so they could be a complete monopoly and not be bothered with other competition. TURN worked hard with almost no money to fight the proposition. And won.

Now, in a rush to take advantage of U.S. stimulus money, utilities across the country are quickly installing thousands of smart meters to homes each day. Projects in the U.S. are being accelerated because of the $3.4 billion in the stimulus funds set aside for ‘smart-grid’ technologies. PG&E is now sticking smart meters to Mendocino County and anywhere the company operates in California. Many California cities and counties, including San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Marin counties, have decided to reject “Smart” Meters. Cities declining include Sebastopol, Berkeley, Cotati, Fairfax, Santa Cruz, Piedmont, Scotts Valley, Capitola, Watsonville, Sausalito, San Anselmo and others.

What’s so bad about these ‘smart’ meters?
The main issues are:

1. Security of data and private information. Billions [of dollars] are on the table, so they are moving forward with metering projects and they’re spending money as fast as they can,” said Jonathan Pollet, founder of Red Tiger Security which tests security features in SCADA systems. “The security isn’t where it should be, but the vendors aren’t going to turn down orders.” So there is little security built into the “smart” meters, making them susceptible to hackers. Someone could turn on or off your power, change the amount of power which the meter shows you have used, or even be able to tell if you were home. Your energy use patterns and data are a gold mine to marketers, and it can be determined what you are using, from a blender to a vibrator, within the walls of your home, by the energy signatures produced . Who owns this data? PG&E They can make money from this information.

2. Questionable accuracy and greatly increased bills. “The meters have been plagued with problems since the beginning, starting with widespread reports of inflated bills.

3. Loss of jobs and trained people in the field monitoring the infrastructure. Our country’s big problem – no jobs – and PG&E wants us to pay to make less jobs.

4. Potential and unknown health risks from wireless radiation. Along with possible health concerns, the San Jose Mercury News says it’s collected dozens of complaints on its Action Line from readers who claim that the wireless smart meters interfere with their household electronics — cordless phones, crib monitors, patio speakers, wireless headsets and microphones, home security systems, motion detectors and remote-controlled garage doors — as the meters transmit their power data.

5. Private property rights and your ability to choose for yourself in your own home. Nuff said.

Any one of these issues is cause for concern and a cause for action.

As I wrote last spring, PG&E foolishly spent over $46 million of rate payer money on the failed ballot initiative, proposition 16, to lock in their monopoly from municipal power utilities and anyone else. That was money that could have been used for real problems in their infrastructure, such as fixing the equipment that caused the recent fatal San Bruno explosion and fire. On top of that, the Bay Guardian reported a few weeks ago, that Pacific Gas & Electric Company was granted $5 million to upgrade a portion of its San Bruno gas pipeline, but they never got around to doing it. A rupture along that section of pipe caused the deadly Sept. 9 explosion that took the lives of eight people and destroyed 37 homes. Ironically, according to Forbes.com, PG&E CEO Peter Darbee earned $10,559,428 in 2009 in total compensation.

Then… William Devereaux, Senior Director of Pacific Gas and Electric’s ‘Smart’ Meter program was caught falsifying his identity in a covert attempt to access information from a group of citizens opposing the new meters. The group has been identifying and collecting evidence of widespread health problems, meter inaccuracies, electrical interference and customer information privacy problems caused by ‘Smart’ Meters. A spy in the ointment. He got caught being a troll.

PG&E is quickly grabbing taxpayer (government) subsidies to lay off workers and make a bigger profit using stimulus money. Uh, I thought that stimulus money was to create jobs, not get rid of them. But that’s another story: The lobby power. This is the kind of company that claims “smart” meters are safe and secure. Horse puckey, I say. This is a company that is mismanaged.

After collecting this info, I was convinced I don’t want a so-called “smart“ meter. I asked TURN how to fight the “smart” meter invasion. Here is a list of things to do to avoid “smart“ meters from TURN. Join the resistance. Go to this website to download the boycott signs.

Here is the note TURN sent me:

Dear Michael ,
Thank you for downloading the Smart Meter Boycott sign from TURN. Here’s a few guidelines for boycotting smart meters and making your neighborhood a smart meter free zone:

*  File a complaint with the CA Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the regulatory agency that oversees your utility issues.

* Put a sign on your meter telling PG&E you do not want a Smart Meter installed. If a worker comes to install a meter, tell them you do not want one installed until the CPUC investigation is complete. In most cases, installation workers have respected these actions. However, if they insist on installing a meter, there is nothing more you can do to stop them. Remember that the smart meters installers are working people that deserve respect. Please notify us if they install a Smart Meter against your wishes.

* If other neighbors on your block do not have a smart meter yet, organize your neighbors to do the same and become a Smart Meter Free Zone!

* At least once a month, take a picture of your meter reading and mark the date and time.  It is quite possible that PG&E may send you an estimated bill.  If they overestimate your bill you will have proof of your actual usage.  If PG&E threatens to shut off your power, file a complaint with the CPUC and contact TURN’s consumer hotline immediately at 1-800-355-8876. PG&E has publicly stated that they will not shut off power to customers boycotting the Smart Meter installations. It is more likely that they will begin to estimate your usage, which will be noted on your bill.  If they underestimate your bill, be aware that PG&E could charge you for any ‘past usage’ for an indefinite period of time. You should save up to pay for any underestimates and contact PG&E. We cannot assure you that PG&E will not try to shut off your power for boycotting a Smart Meter installation. However, based on our reading of their terms of service, we don’t see a specific basis for PG&E cutting off your power.

Contact Kori Chen, Community Organizer, at 1-800-355-8876 or kchen@turn.org for more info on forming a Smart Meter Free Zone!

PG&E’s dedicated Smart Meter line is 1-866-743-0263

Tell your elected representatives that there must be an opt out for smart meters. Then… We can work in Mendocino County to create our own public utility authority like Ukiah or Marin County, who recently accomplished creating its own utility. It is time PG&E has some competition. Then there would be no more worry about smart meters… and an inept, greedy corporation in control. A local energy utility could then help our broken economy.

Local Energy for Mendocino County!