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Judge may rule on Smart Meter program

Ruling to come in next two weeks on moratorium petition; Fairfax's ordinance banning the meters stays in place.

A judge will rule in the next two weeks on whether or not a moratorium can be placed on PG&E's Smart Meter program. San Francisco filed a petition with the California Public Utilities Commission back in June requesting a moratorium on the installation of the wireless meters. Judge Tim Sullivan has so far declined to place a moratorium on the meters, but will make a final judgment, he said, in the next two weeks.

Whether or not that ruling will affect a Fairfax ordinance that bans the Smart Meters in town remains to be seen.

PG&E has long maintained that Fairfax has no jurisdiction to impose such an ordinance. If a judge ruled against a delay on installation – per the San Francisco petition – would that negate the legality of the Fairfax ordinance?

"It's hard to say in the abstract, but, generally, no," said Town Attorney Jim Karpiak.

"I think we should, at a minimum, have a 10 year moratorium where we can have studies done and see how people are affected," said resident Diane Hoffman at that meeting.

The PG&E Smart Meter program aims to install 10 million wireless gas and electric meters in California by 2012 at a cost of $2.2 billion. Eight-thousand meters will be installed in Fairfax. The meters use a combination of cellular and radio networks to transmit individual usage data back to PG&E. Read how the meters work here.

Concerns have been raised over the privacy, security, accuracy and health issues surrounding the meters. Read about the background of the Smart Meter program here.

Nowhere have residents raised more concerns about the meters than in Fairfax.

Despite repeated insistence by PG&E that they would not implement any type of moratorium, the utility has voluntarily delayed the installation of the program in Fairfax.

PG&E will hold a number of community meetings about the meters in the coming weeks. According to Town Manager Michael Rock, those meetings are being planned and have almost been finalized. When the dates are set, they will be publicized on the town website.

Because the temporary delay is voluntarily on PG&E's part, the judge's ruling in the coming weeks will have no effect on the plan to hold community educational meetings.

However, along with PG&E's voluntary moratorium, the town also implemented their own ordinance placing a moratorium on the meters. That ordinance may come under closer scrutiny following a ruling on the San Francisco petition with the California Public Utilities Commission.

PG&E has argued repeatedly that only the commission, itself, can impose a forced moratorium and that the town lacks the legal basis to do so. But Fairfax doesn't agree.

"That exact boundary line," said Karpiak is what will be the question in a court case.

The ordinance the town passed argued that the town has the right to impose regulations on PG&E per the California Public Utilities Code and per a franchise agreement Fairfax has with PG&E. It also has enforcement provisions.

But Rock admitted enforcement is difficult.

No matter what the judge rules, it is unlikely that residents will suddenly feel all their concerns have been addressed. In a town where some residents have locked their gates or meters and put up signs telling PG&E not to install a new Smart Meter, it may take some time and conversation before the utility and the town can come to an agreement.

"This is not a democratically deployed system. It's a system that's being forced on us," said Councilman Larry Bragman at the August Town Council meeting.

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