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Alameda Residents Voice Concerns Over PG&E's SmartMeters

The utility said that it and a third party have studied the SmartMeters and that 98.2 percent of the tests have shown accurate readings.
The utility said that it and a third party have studied the SmartMeters and that 98.2 percent of the tests have shown accurate readings.
Inaccurate readings, radiation and security breaches top the list

Alameda residents on Wednesday voiced concerns about the safety and accuracy of Pacific Gas & Electric's SmartMeters.

The utility company is in the midst of installing the new meters, and representatives of Pacific Gas and Electric Company met with about 50 local residents Wednesday night at Alameda's Mastick Senior Center to address their issues.

The meters transmit usage data to the utility company wirelessly. In Alameda, the meters will only monitor gas usage, since electricity is supplied by Alameda Municipal Power.

Residents had a list of concerns that included higher PG&E bills, inaccurate usage readings and security. Some residents said they’re upset about added radiation into homes.

Why would you expose people to radio frequency radiation when it is known to be dangerous, one resident asked.

Others said they’re concerned over the possibility of hackers obtaining information through the wireless network used by SmartMeters.

“It sounds like terrorists could hack into the entire system,” another resident who attended the drop-in meeting said.

But PG&E’s reps said the meters are safe, and that the problems are few and fixable. They said the utility and a third party have studied the SmartMeters extensively and that 98.2 percent of the tests have shown accurate readings. The company also said that 90 percent of the reported bill errors have been attributed to problems with the original meters.

We believe all the bugs are worked out, PG&E spokesman Tom Guarino said. All of the indications to date have been of extreme accuracy.

The SmartMeter program aims to update the power grid so it's more reliable, efficient and environmentally sustainable, said PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno. And homeowners can track their energy use online and see how much gas they are using.

“You’ll have more of an ability to control your usage and be a little more energy efficient,” PG&E spokeswoman Roxanne Cruz said.

The company said that routine rate increases are the cause of higher PG&E bills. In addition, the radiation that is emitted by the meter is close to the same amount as cellular phones. But the SmartMeter is not in as close contact to skin as a cellular phone typically is. The gas meters give off a signal once a day for a fraction of a second, Moreno said.

And Moreno said the company takes security seriously.

“We have a number of measures in place. Employees monitor situations in real time, and there are already a number of requirements in place by the California Public Utilities Commission to protect information,” he said.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, almost 45,000 of the approximately 5.7 million SmartMeters PG&E has installed in California have experienced some errors.

The utility stated that only nine of the SmartMeters were inaccurately measuring electricity use, for unknown reasons. Other issues included poor installation, communication failures and data storage troubles — all problems that are fixable.

Still, the concerns were enough to prompt a state Senate hearing about the meters in April, and to persuade San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Hererra to ask that the utility halt installing the meters in that city until an investigation of their accuracy is complete.

A resident distributed fliers in the middle of the meeting stating that individuals should have the right to a moratorium and to opt out of the SmartMeters program. Organizers have created a petition online, and more than 300 people have signed it so far. The flier also urged those who agree with the petitioners to tape a sign on their existing home meters saying, “Do not install SmartMeter."

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