PG&E; Replacing 1,600 Smart Meters With a Rare Defect Affecting Customers' Billing

PGE smart meter

Migrated Image / Christian Haugen / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Pacific Gas & Electric, a California-based utility, has been plagued with issues during their major push to get smart meters installed in every household in their area, from complaints about possible health issues to human roadblocks keeping workers from getting to homes for installations. But one complaint about faulty pricing actually has a little bearing. The utility just announced the need to replace 1,600 meters after a "rare" defect that impacted the bills of the customers was discovered. Ooopsie.

PG&E; states that a handful of smart meters (and yes, 1,600 is a tiny fraction of 2 million provided by Landis+Gyr, and the 10 million the utility is installing in total) is affected with a defect that has created a problem with billing. The meters "occasionally run fast when experiencing a narrow band of high temperatures, resulting in a miscalculation of energy bills."

The issue was caught fairly quickly. The utility says that those customers who received inaccurate bills will get a full refund -- an average of about $40 per customer -- and their meters will be replaced at no charge. In addition, the company will provide a $25 credit for the inconvenience and offer a free in-home energy audit to those with a defective meter.

That sounds like a generous "We're sorry!" offer, and props to them for being so upfront about it. But the stain is likely to last for a utility that is already experiencing problems with its PR.

The utility has been pushing hard for the last few years to roll out smart meters to every one of its customers, but it hasn't been without headache. For customers who distrust the new technology, the move to replace old meters with smart meters is anything but welcome.

Some of the bigger complaints include that there has been no major independent study done regarding possible health impacts of the meters, that the meters don't provide accurate pricing (um, that one panned out to a very, very small extent) and that they are an invasion of privacy since a customer's usage data is tracked.

Many of these issues could have been resolved early on had the utility done a better job with consumer education before the push. But at the very least, maybe this will be a lesson for other utilities -- fill people in completely on what you're doing, before you do it.

Earth2Tech reports, "Last month, PG&E; also decided to offer the option to turn off the radios and pay the extra charges of having them read manually to customers who think their smart meter radios might be a health risk. The move was in response to a tiny, but very vocal, group of PG&E; customers who've been blocking smart meter installation trucks and successfully lobbying local governments throughout Northern California to place a moratorium on installing the wireless smart meters."

"We take this issue very seriously and will do the right thing for our customers. We are committed to accurate metering and billing and will contact our affected customers immediately and issue full refunds," said Greg Kiraly, Vice President, SmartMeterTM Operations, in a press release.

I for one just got a notice in the mail from PG&E; a couple weeks ago that the apartment building I live in will be getting smart meters. Rather than being nervous, I'm glad to see the upgrade.