Moving to end an
embarrassing standoff, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. on
Friday said it would restore power to a small group of
customers who had removed their new SmartMeters out of fear
the wireless devices were making them ill.
affects roughly a half-dozen PG&E customers, most in Santa
Cruz County, who paid electricians to replace the
SmartMeters with more traditional, analog models. PG&E cut
off their power in a bid to deter others from following
At first, the
utility insisted it would restore electricity only if those
people agreed to let PG&E install another SmartMeter. On
Thursday, the company offered a second option, saying
customers could also choose a digital meter that lacked a
wireless transmitter. But some of the SmartMeter opponents
still held out, saying the digital meters contained a
power-switching device that produced its own harmful
emissions. So on Friday, PG&E said it would restore power to
the remaining homes, after first removing the unauthorized
analog meters. Those houses will go without electricity and
gas meters altogether until the California Public Utilities
Commission decides whether to create an opt-out plan for
people who don't want the wireless SmartMeters. A commission
vote on the issue could come in mid-January.
"This is a temporary solution for a very unique
circumstance," said PG&E spokesman Greg Snapper.
Until the vote, those customers will receive estimated bills
based on their past use of electricity and natural gas.
"It's a good thing - for now," said Bianca Carn of Santa
Cruz, whose power was cut off Tuesday. Her two children had
been sleeping at their grandmother's home ever since.
"I guess I can get the Christmas tree this weekend," she
PG&E's highly unusual move does not resolve the underlying
that the radiation from cell phones, laptop computers and
other wireless devices can cause illness consider
SmartMeters a grave public danger, and they have opposed
PG&E's $2.2 billion effort to install the meters throughout
Northern and Central California. PG&E insists the meters are
safe, and the idea that such wireless signals can affect
human health remains the topic of fierce debate among
researchers. The utilities commission will consider two
possible opt-out plans. Neither one would let PG&E customers
keep their old, analog meters. One plan would allow them to
choose a SmartMeter with the transmitter turned off, while
the other plan would let them pick a digital meter with no
transmitter. Those customers would also pay additional fees,
which PG&E says are necessary to pay for the meter readers
who would collect their data in person.
Monise Sheehan of Aptos received one of the digital meters
without a transmitter after she complained to PG&E about her
SmartMeter. Soon after the wireless SmartMeter was
installed, she said she started feeling a buzzing in her
legs and arms and pressure in her head.
transmitter-free meter didn't get rid of her symptoms, she
said. Sheehan and other SmartMeter critics say a switching
mode power supply within the digital meters produces a kind
of electrical interference that can travel through a home's
wiring and affect people who are "electrosensitive."
"It's not a real
option," Sheehan said of the transmitter-free meter. "I
ended up purchasing an analog, hiring an electrician and
taking it out."
PG&E decided to
restore power after hearing from customers and public
officials. California Sen. Joe Simitian spoke with PG&E
executives and urged them to "take a step back and take a
deep breath," he said.
"I don't have a
problem with SmartMeters per se - I just thought this was
over the top," said Simitian, D-Palo Alto. "It's
inappropriate for a bill-paying customer to have their power
cut off while there's an ongoing process at the CPUC. It's
not like they can walk down the street and purchase power
from another utility."
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