Conflicting Accounts Linger Regarding Accuracy, Convenience of PG&E SmartMeters

September 09, 2010 by Jeff Shepard

In the wake of a flurry of customer complaints, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) welcomed the release by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) of an independent, third-party evaluation of the utility’s SmartMeter™ program.

The report, prepared by The Structure Group of Houston, Texas, states that PG&E’s new meters are recording customer electric usage accurately. It also found that issues that arose early in the program were limited in scope, were being "appropriately addressed by PG&E" and often reflected factors unrelated to the meters, including higher-than-normal energy usage caused by a heat wave.

"We have wholeheartedly supported this third-party verification in order to make sure that our meters are accurate and our program is sound," said PG&E Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer Helen Burt. "We want our customers to be armed with the facts, not with speculation. We are 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. We also agree with its criticism of our failure to address customer concerns on a timely basis, and have taken steps to address that real shortfall in our program."

At the CPUC’s direction, Structure independently tested 750 SmartMeter™ devices and 147 legacy electromechanical meters from April to August of this year, both in the laboratory and in the field. The consulting firm also reviewed 1,378 accounts from customers who complained about their bills, and conducted 20 direct phone interviews with customers.

This assessment is the second expert third-party evaluation of advanced metering devices in the United States. The previous assessment, conducted by another consultancy for the Texas Public Utilities Commission, concluded that similar utility smart meters are accurate.

However, less than a week after the CPUC report, the San Jose Mercury News is reporting once again that it is receiving dozens of complaints on its Action Line from people who claim that the wireless smart meters interfere with their household electronics – cordless phones, crib monitors, patio speakers, wireless headsets and microphones, home security systems, motion detectors and remote-controlled garage doors – as the meters transmit their power data to PG&E.