A class action lawsuit has been filed claiming that Pacific Gas & Electric’s (PG&E) smart meters are consistently overcharging customers for electricity and natural gas. PG&E is currently in the midst of a massive smart meter rollout in California where 10 million are expected to be installed by the end of 2011.
PG&E’s “SmartMeter” project is the utility’s highly touted automated meter reading (AMR) project. AMR will allow PG&E to remotely collect energy usage data to be compiled at a central location. This information can then be used by customers to better manage the use of energy and by PG&E to streamline operations.
Smart meters were first installed in the Bakersfield area in early 2007. PG&E will eventually implement a pricing system that varies based upon the time of day and the season.
The lawsuit has been brewing for months. So many customers called in to complain about their smart meters overcharging them that PG&E established an “answer centre” at its Bakersfield office. Customers are encouraged to visit the office for answers to concerns regarding their smart meters. In October more than 200 customers attended a public hearing on the matter.
State Senator Dean Florez, the Majority Leader, has demanded PG&E halt the smart meter installations. State regulators agreed to look into the issue but stopped short of calling for a halt to PG&E’s ongoing smart meter project. “People think these meters are fraud meters,” said Florez. “They feel they’re being defrauded. They’re getting no benefit from these things.”
The suit names PG&E and Wellington Energy, who installed the smart meters. Wellington, a subsidiary of Pittsburgh-based Wellington Power, boasts on its website that its AMR program is “the largest of its kind in North America.” The site also says that the installed smart meters can take daily gas readings and hourly electric readings.
Michael Kelly is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The suit alleges that PG&E committed fraud, false advertising, negligence, and unfair competition. PG&E has “taken the position that there is absolutely no problem here at all,” said Kelly.
PG&E officials contend that the smart meters are not to blame for the problems in Bakersfield. They point to a hot summer and recent increases in electricity raises as the culprits. The first rate increase came in October of 2008, followed by another in March of 2009. The increases were barely noticeable in the spring but were very noticeable when temperatures soared during the summer.
“The allegations in the lawsuit are untrue and have no merit,” said PG&E spokesman Denny Boyles in a statement, adding that the utility will hire a third party to audit the accuracy of the smart meters. PG&E says the audit will confirm that the devices are functioning just as they are supposed to.
PG&E switched to a newer type of smart meter earlier this year. Some of the Bakersfield customers had an older one installed only to have it swapped with the newer model later on. GE, Landis+Gyr, and Silver Spring Networks are the smart meter vendors.
Pacific Gas & Electric PO Box 56 Avila Beach, CA 93424-0056 http://www.pge.com
Wellington Energy Inc. 750 Commonwealth Drive Warrendale, PA 15086 http://www.wellingtonpower.com
General Electric 3135 Easton Turnpike Fairfield, CT 06828 http://www.ge.com
Landis+Gyr AG Feldstrasse 1 CH-6301 Zug http://www.landisgyr.com