Updated at 6:22 p.m. June 19, 2012
Two months after state regulators allowed electric and gas customers to opt out of wireless smart meters, only 720 SDG&E customers have done so—out of nearly 1.4 million, the utility says.
In Northern California, nearly 40 times as many have removed or blocked installation of smart meters.
Late Tuesday afternoon, spokesman Paul Moreno of San Francisco-based Pacific Gas & Electric Co. said: “About 28,000 PG&E customers have elected to opt out of PG&E’s SmartMeter program.”
He said the company has about 5.6 million customers in its service area of Northern and Central California. But PG&E began offering opt-outs several months before SDG&E.
In La Mesa, the home of leading smart meter critic Susan Brinchman, 25 customers have asked for their gas or electric smart meters to be removed, according to SDG&E spokeswoman Erin Coller.
Such wireless meters, which communicate with the utility via radiofrequency means, have been called health hazards—a claim SDG&E disputes. When smart meters come off, old-style analog meters (with the round spinning plate) go back on.
As of June 12, Coller said, 508 electric smart meters have been replaced with analog models, and 374 gas smart meters have been replaced.
The number of opt-outs in other Patch communities:
- Coronado: 5
- Santee: 4
- Carlsbad: 27
- Encinitas: 33
- Imperial Beach: 1
- Lemon Grove: 1
- Ramona: 15
- Poway: 7
- Oceanside: 36
- La Jolla: 42
- Rancho Bernardo (92128): 7
Brinchman, director and founder of La Mesa-based Center for Electrosmog Prevention, on Monday attributed the low numbers to SDG&E played “hard to get” on opt-outs in April and early May.
She said that the utility made people wait 30 minutes and more to speak to someone when they called the opt-out hotline and that “people were given the wrong info in some cases.”
SDG&E also stressed the cost of opting out—a one-time fee of $75 and a $10 monthly charge—to discourage customers from restoring their analog meters, Brinchman said via email.
“The opt-out is a secret—only telling the people who complained earlier … about the opt-out,” she said. “No one would think to look it up on their website unless they already knew.”
Brinchman said SDG&E failed to insert opt-out information in customer bills, but spokeswoman Coller said Tuesday that “I thought you might want to take a look at this online version of the June bill insert that is going out to all customers this month (see the top right corner).” See PDF attached to this story.
SDG&E has an FAQ about smart meter opt-outs on its website.
Brinchman also blamed poor media coverage for the few opt-outs and said: “People do not want to pay the fees or can't afford them. See the towns that had fewer opt-outs.”
For her group’s part, “We are working on the elimination of the fees, community opt-outs, the big picture, getting fliers out. But since people hate the fees, they aren’t opting out anyhow. They don’t understand the risk or can’t afford it.”
Brinchman said her group saw the low rates of opt-outs coming.
“We are working on phase II and the big picture, nationally,” she said. “Expecting a corrupted [California Public Utilities Commission] to fix things is like beating a dead horse. The population in [Southern California] is largely a product of very laid back, industry-tuned media.”
She vowed to eliminate fees, wireless smart meters and the wireless infrastructure.
“This isn’t over and we will win,” said Brinchman, who described her own smart meter health effects in a series of . “Why? Because it is in alignment with what is supposed to happen, according to existing laws, and we’re right. The truth will ultimately prevail.”
Brinchman said about 20 groups are fighting smart meters in California and cited these sites:
- CEP Filings at CPUC 2011-2012 (about 30 filings)
- Smart Meter Activism Sites: CA and USA
- Where Smart Meters Are Optional
- CA & Federal Laws That Support No Opt-Out Fees
According to a San Jose Mercury News report in late April:
PG&E says that, as of April 24, it had received about 19,500 opt-out requests from residential customers throughout its vast Northern California service territory. Those requesting to opt out include 11,500 customers who still have analog meters and 8,000 who have a SmartMeter installed but want to switch back to an analog meter. Customers in both categories will be charged.
In an email sent supporters a week ago, Brinchman said she pays her opt-out fees in a separate check, notated “paid under duress.”
She also said she has noticed improvements in her health—“being able to sleep better, less ringing in the ears, and reduction in headaches. I am able to be near the new analog meters outside without feeling ill.”
A found almost half of respondents considering restoring their old analog meters.