The Marin County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to extend its moratorium on the installation of Pacific Gas & Electric's SmartMeters in unincorporated Marin for another year, continuing a ban first imposed in January 2011.
While the approval of that first moratorium drew a raucous ovation from a packed house of vocal critics of the wireless meters, the board's extension of it Tuesday was brief and largely uneventful.
Supervisor Steve Kinsey opened the discussion by noting that the California Public Utilities Commission has yet to institute "any opt-out provisions" or weigh in on whether or not PG&E is allowed to charge fees to customers who choose to opt-out.
"Even though I consider this to be a relatively straightforward procedure," Kinsey said of the moratorium extension, "it's still important to elevate our board's ongoing commitment to the community members that have concerns about SmartMeters. This is our way of prodding the PUC to finish the unfinished business. Individuals should be able to control our own destinies in our own homes."
Kinsey's comment was followed by comments from nine local residents who thanked the board for their continued action and spelled out their own concerns about SmartMeters.
The wireless digital meters came under fire in recent years because of concerns about accuracy, security, privacy and health effects. The meters use a combination of radio and electromagnetic signals to transmit data from the digital meter attached to your house to a transponder on a nearby telephone pole. That data is then transmitted via a cellular mesh network back to PG&E. Read about how the wireless meters work here.
A January 2011 California Council on Science and Technology report revealed the radiation from the meters is dwarfed by the radiation from items such as cellphones and microwave ovens, and that the actual radiation falls well within Federal Communications Commission guidelines.
The new technology wirelessly transmits gas- and electricity-consumption data to PG&E, eliminating the need for so-called "meter reader" employees and providing customers with information about how much power they are consuming.
The issue became charged here in Marin, with two women getting arrested in February 2011 when they tried to block the truck of a PG&E contractor attempting to install the SmartMeters in Inverness.
The enforceability of a SmartMeter ban is open for debate, as local governments have no regulatory power over the smart-grid technology of utilities like PG&E, and the body that does have that power, the CPUC, has already given them the green light.
A moratorium similar to the county's was passed by the Fairfax Town Council in August 2010. It essentially moved Fairfax, along with unincorporated Marin, to the bottom of PG&E's list of Smart Meter installations in Marin.
But that was two years ago, and PG&E officials claim that individual customer opt-outs have been minimal. In May 2012, PG&E reported to the PUC that "substantially less than 1 percent of PG&E's residential customers" have declined the technology.
In February, the CPUC approved a plan to allow opt-outs in February 2012, but has yet to yet to issue a system by which non-individuals, such as entire communities, can opt out. The panel has also yet to formally approve PG&E's plan to charge customers a $75 initial setup charge and a $10 monthly charge to use an analog meter. Those who qualify for low-income rates will pay a $10 setup charge and $5 a month.
PG&E customers can request to opt out of the SmartMeter program online at pge.com/smartmeteroptout or by calling 866-743-0263.