Survey shows Smart Meter complaints coincided with recent heat waves

Independent study says new meters OK, but PG&E's customer service has problems

The California Public Utilities Commission Thursday received the results of an independent report on PG&E's SmartMeter program before holding a commission meeting in San Francisco where more people came to criticize the controversial meters.

The report, conducted by The Structure Group, an energy consulting firm based in Texas, determined the meters are performing accurately but pointed to the utility's customer service practices as a cause of increased complaints about the program.

The SmartMeters, which send energy usage information wirelessly, began being installed last year and are expected to be rolled out to all PG&E customers by mid-2012.

The report was prompted by more than 600 customer complaints about high bills and allegations that the meters were not accurately recording energy usage. The report said the SmartMeters "are accurately recording electric usage within acceptable CPUC tolerances, and are being accurately utilized in customer billing."

The report said recent rate hikes coincided with a heat wave in California that caused bills to be higher than usual for new SmartMeter customers.

However, the report pointed to PG&E's customer service problems, including insufficiently addressing customer questions about SmartMeters, billing errors, and a lack of communication about installation of the meters, which "furthered customer perception that SmartMeters may not have been accurate."

CPUC President Michael Peevey said in a statement that he was "happy to hear that PG&E's SmartMeters are functioning properly but disturbed by PG&E's lack of customer service and responsiveness."

PG&E Senior Vice President Helen Burt said the utility is "pleased that The Structure Group's detailed analysis confirms the integrity of our meter program and provides assurance to customers that our meter readings are accurate."

She said the company agreed with the report's criticism of PG&E's failure to address concerns on a timely basis and has "taken steps to address that real shortfall in our program."

The CPUC held a regularly scheduled meeting in San Francisco Thursday morning, and about a dozen people spoke out against the meters. Those critics mostly talked about health concerns, though, rather than the accuracy issues addressed by the report.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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Like this comment
Posted by BBQ Man
a resident of Mohr Park
on Sep 5, 2010 at 1:22 am

A big thank you goes out to The Structure Group for doing the independant study. It makes you wonder though, how accurate the old electro-mechanical meters that were in place prior to the implementation of the Smart Meters. Where were the complainers then and did they blame the that technology too?

Like this comment
Posted by Jerry
a resident of Birdland
on Sep 6, 2010 at 7:43 pm

The true issue with the SmartMeter is for which customers the SmartMeters "are accurately recording electric usage within acceptable CPUC tolerances, and are being accurately utilized in customer billing."

According to SmartMeter manufacturer Honeywell, SmartMeters are calibrated "by example". See Web Link. If you are not aware of calibration "by example", it is the same method used for kitchen, home and general business thermometers. The theory behind "by example" calibration is that the device is calibrated to one point at which average use is expected, such as 98.6 F or 350F.

As applied to SmartMeters, if the point of calibration is 200 kwh and your use is 200 kwh, the meter is right on. If your use is 50 kwh or 500 kwh, no one knows whether the meter is accurate because it was not calibrated at either of those points. It might low, right on, or high.

Worded another way, SmartMeters are used to monitor services that costs each home or business an average of a few thousand to many thousands of dollars a year. For that level of expense, businesses use a two or more point method of calibration, and professionally and annually calibrate their devices. Thus, the question is whether the calibration and CPUC tolerances are reasonably accurate for the home or business owner.

The CPUC tolerances likely provide for the overall average of the six million plus SmartMeters to recoup PG&E's losses from low reading meters with high reading meters. If you are person paying for the high-reading meter, however, would you consider that fair to you?

Like this comment
Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Sep 6, 2010 at 8:03 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

I just read the part of that manual about calibration and it says there's two reference points for calibration, 4mA and 20mA, in the source current when operating in analog mode. Beyond that, I didn't understand your example.

Like this comment
Posted by Pleasanton Parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Sep 8, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Have any of you logged in and monitored your usage? It actually provides some interesting information in an easy to read graphical format.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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