PG&E's Kleptomaniac Smart Meters

By Bill Moore

Posted: 13 Nov 2009

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) has a problem, it's new "smart meters" also appear to be kleptomaniacs. How else to you explain what customers in Bakersfield, California say they are experiencing in the wake of having new "smart meters" installed on their homes?

In an exclusive report on Smart Grid Today, an unspecified number of utility customers have filed a class action lawsuit naming PG&E and as many as another 100 firms and individuals as defendants after they saw their electric power bills triple and some even higher, a lot higher. On filing the lawsuit, the law firm of Kirtland and Parkard in El Segundo, CA. pointed to "one guy [who] got a bill for $11,000 that was supposed to be $100."

Kirtland and Parkard attorney Michael Kelly explains...

"Some bills are two, three, four times higher now than before the smart meters.  There are anecdotal explanations for every bill that's out of whack and obviously some increase could be due to higher rates and higher demand. But there has to be an explanation that no one has identified.  At this point, we don't think there's one particular cause."
The suit charges 11 violations of civil law from unjust enrichment to false advertising, adding that PG&E did not give customers a choice in the decision to exchange their "dumb" meters with the new ones. To date an activist group known as the The Utility Reform Network has received some 100 complaints about the meters.

The trouble for PG&E is that it knew the meters weren't foolproof. In a May 9, 2009 article in the Bakersfield Californian, at least one of its shortcomings was exposed when the power went out in Tim Vanderhorst's home for nearly six hours the previous month. When Vanderhorst got his bill, he discovered it had tripled during the outage. How could that happen?

Vanderhorst's SmartMeter was not transmitting a signal as it should, and so the utility's computer system automatically filled in the blanks with data patterned after his past power usage, or that of customers like him.

The former PG&E meter reader's problem isn't an isolated one. His neighbor discovered he also had been charged for energy he hadn't used during the blackout.

PG&E has acknowledged the "flaw in the system" and explains that various "factors may hinder the data transmissions including radio interference, blackouts and electronic bandwidth limitations."

While the utility contends this hasn't impacted customers bills, it clearly has for those participating in the class action lawsuit.

Since smart meters are critical building blocks in the development of a smart power grid, which itself is essential to the wider use of renewable energy and electric vehicles, if there's a problem with these electric "legos" then it needs to be fixed, and fixed ASAP.

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