State to Investigate Smart Meter Customer Complaints
By Norma Yuriar
Fresno, Calif. (KMPH News) — Smart Meters or Money–Hungry Meters? The switch from regular to digital meters is igniting public anger that Pacific Gas and Electric's new Smart Meters are anything but.
"I'm afraid to turn-on my PG&E," Customer April Ashford said.
Her utility bill more than tripled after PG&E replaced her old utility meter with the new digital device.
"I've never had a bill that high, never," Ashford said.
It jumped from $276 in June of 2008 to $838 in June of 2009, according to the Fresno woman.
"We understand customers are concerned, particularly in tough economic times — when they see their energy costs go up," PG&E Spokesperson Jeff Smith said.
Smith says Smart Meters have nothing to do with the hike. He says although the company has received hundreds of customer complaints — the reality is the higher bills were due to a scheduled rate increase and a very hot summer.
"We have tested over 1,100 Smart Meters and in each and every case the Smart Meter has tested that they are reading customer energy use accurately," Smith said.
To ensure that's the case the California Public Utilities Commission is stepping in to verify the accuracy of customer bills in the San Joaquin Valley.
"The independent consultant is going to be hired due to the high amount of complaints received by PG&E and some by the California Public Utilities Commission regarding Smart Meter energy bills," PUC Spokesperson Andrew Kotch said.
A class action lawsuit has also been filed in Kern County against PG&E over its controversial program.
PG&E says the lawsuit has no merit.
In October, hundreds of outraged customers packed the auditorium of the state building in downtown Fresno. Democratic State Senator Dean Florez of Shafter hosted the hearing, where he said the meters should be relied on and not feared.
78% of homes in Fresno County are now equipped with the digital device. If everything goes as planned Smart Meters will be installed in every home in the coming months, officials said.
PG&E is encouraging current Smart Meter customers to go www.pge.com to monitor their daily energy use and to see how every penny is spent. Customers like April Ashford say that's $837.99 too late.
"I paid $838, it's just not right," Ashford said.
The PUC expects to choose an independent evaluator in December, a decision PG&E supports.
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