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    SmartMeter revolt persists: billboard-sized sign ...Say NO! to PG&E!!

    SmartMeter revolt persists
    Sonoma County upgrade program proceeding, but opposition centered in west county continues to vex PG&E with questions over health, privacy, accuracy

    CRISTA JEREMIASON / The Press Democrat

    Carol Collins stands next to a sign she and her husband, Jim Swasey, agreed to let SmartMeter opponents post in their yard on Guerneville Road.


    Published: Thursday, November 25, 2010 at 8:39 p.m.
    Last Modified: Thursday, November 25, 2010 at 8:39 p.m.

    A bright yellow, billboard-sized sign posted on a private pasture lit by the setting sun was hard to miss on a recent afternoon for drivers heading east on Guerneville Road past Willowside Road: “Protect your health and privacy rights. Say no to PG&E!” the sign read.

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    As the utility company continues to roll out its new SmartMeters, North Coast customers who question the technology's effect on health, privacy and accuracy have kept up their vocal opposition.

    “I don't want one on my property, period,” said Jim Swasey, 64, a retired boat repairman who agreed to let SmartMeter opponents post the large sign on his pasture on Guerneville Road about two weeks ago.

    The sign is just one part of a trail of protests, YouTube videos, stickers, letters and online groups compiling a trove of opinions taking issue with PG&E's claims that radio frequencies emitted by the meters have a negligible effect on the body.

    Despite these efforts, PG&E's SmartMeter installation program is on course to upgrade all applicable gas and electric meters serviced by the company sometime in 2012.

    Nearly 60 percent of meters already have been upgraded overall in Sonoma County's nine cities, according to Paul Moreno, a PG&E spokesman.

    However, only about 5 percent of the meters in Sebastopol and surrounding areas, ground zero for a leading resistance group, the EMF Safety Network, have been swapped out for SmartMeters, according to Moreno's figures.

    SmartMeters send wireless data to PG&E once daily via a single-watt radio, according to PG&E's website. The communication lasts 45 seconds. At a distance of 10 feet, those radio frequencies are about one-thousandth as much as a typical cell phone, the site said.

    Those emissions fall far below the maximum allowed by the Federal Communications Commission, a state administrative law judge found.

    SmartMeters more closely monitor people's energy use, a feature company officials say will help people track how they use energy, and learn how to conserve and save on their bill.

    But for Swasey and others, that tracking feels like an invasion of privacy. Demographics data could be sold to advertisers, he said.

    “They can tell if I get up in the middle of the night,” Swasey said. “They don't need to know that, that's none of their business.”

    His wife, Carol Collins, 69, is more concerned about the meter's accuracy.

    Their fears haven't been quelled by research showing otherwise.

    A $1.4 million study commissioned by the California Public Utilities Commission released in September concluded that the machines accurately tracked energy use.

    Nonetheless, PG&E officials have made several public relations missteps.

    PG&E staff failed to show at an April 21 forum in Sebastopol hosted by Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo, though they had said they'd be at the public meeting.

    The flood of calls and e-mails with concerns about the meters that prompted him to hold the forum at the Sebastopol Veteran's Building have ebbed, and now mostly come from consumer advocates working on the issue, he said.

    “Some of those are valid and do need to be addressed by PG&E,” Carillo said. “That said, from the county's perspective, there's really not anything we can do.”

    On Nov. 10, William Devereaux, SmartMeter senior program director, resigned after a Sebastopol member of EMF discovered that he had used a fake identity in an attempt to gain access to the group's online forum discussing SmartMeters.

    “If they handled it above board, it wouldn't be a problem,” said Collins, a retired real estate agent. “PG&E has handled this extremely badly.”

    At a Monday SmartMeter protest in front of the Rohnert Park offices of Wellington Energy Inc., a company contracted to install the new meters, about a dozen protestors blocked trucks from deploying into the field for several hours. Police officers were called to ask them to leave.

    The protest was Deborah Tavares' first time picketing.

    Concerned calls from her tenants made the 61-year-old Sebastopol resident, who owns multi-unit properties throughout California, start looking into the meters.

    “I always thought these folks were environmental wackos or hypochondriacs,” Tavares said. “I started to check it out, then I realized this program is nuts.”

    She was concerned that landlords would be held liable if the radio frequencies were found to cause cancer or other ailments. The FCC's findings haven't convinced her the meters have been properly vetted.

    Others share her view and are speaking out.

    Yellow “Refuse SmartMeters” signs have popped up on lawns in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol.

    A website affiliated with the safety network sells anti-SmartMeter stickers. An online video shows people how to affix the stickers to their meter, moved along with a catchy drum riff.

    If confronted with a resident, the technician will fill out an “unable to complete” form, which prompts calls and letters from PG&E staff to find out why, Moreno said.

    “What we've found, given the opportunity to talk to customers, they often feel OK about the program and sometimes look forward to getting the meters,” Moreno said.

    He said no one was available during the holiday week to address what PG&E's policy is when technicians are confronted with such stickers on a meter.

    “It's really hard to talk about every situation generically,” Moreno said. “Give us a call. We want to hear customers who have concerns, including concerns about installation.”

    However, customer resistance has led the utility company to explore whether it's financially possible to develop SmartMeters that emit data via non-wireless means.

    “We are in a preliminary stage of review, including weighing the cost of other options for customers, an option other than a wireless SmartMeter,” Moreno said.

    He encouraged concerned customers to contact PG&E at (866) 743-0263.

    PG&E staff will answer questions during a walk-in “answer center” Monday from 9 a.m. to noon, and Tuesday between 1 and 4 p.m. at a PG&E facility at 111 Stony Circle in Santa Rosa.

    You can reach staff writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or [email protected]
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  3. TopTop #2
    lifequest's Avatar

    Re: SmartMeter revolt persists: billboard-sized sign ...Say NO! to PG&E!!

    PG&E sent a letter in late October stating they were going to install smart meters in my Santa Rosa neighborhood in the next few weeks so I called the hotline and asked to be put on the Last to Install/Deferment List. The were OK with it and only asked the reason why. Then she said that deferment was not permanent. At least they're not playing dumb anymore.
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  4. TopTop #3
    Runningbare's Avatar

    Re: SmartMeter revolt persists: billboard-sized sign ...Say NO! to PG&E!!

    Not playing dumb anymore? Well, maybe . . .
    I called the Schmart Meter Hotline today to ask for written confirmation that I am on their Last-To-Install list.
    PG&E communication can typically slack off such that the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing. A recent flagrant example was the case of William Devereaux, senior director of PG&E’s $2.2 million SmartMeter program who resigned after it was discovered that he used the alias “Ralph” while eavesdropping on online discussions taking place between the anti-smart meter crowd. In a bone-head move, Devereaux forgot to remove his real name at the bottom of his email messages signed “Ralph.”
    I wanted something from PG&E in writing to present when Wellington shows up prepared to swap out the meters despite my being on the list, for whatever that's worth.
    Verbal confirmation was all they'd give me. Written confirmation was denied. I wish they handled their bills this way.
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  5. TopTop #4
    lifequest's Avatar

    Re: SmartMeter revolt persists: billboard-sized sign ...Say NO! to PG&E!!

    As an afterthought I was thinking of doing the same and getting more than their oral promise. Previously, they denied that there was a last to install list and we had to demand to talk to designated contact people to get on the list. The installation letter states that it takes from 60-90 days to activate the Smart Meter after it has been installed. So if they swap out after promising not to I'm not sure what can be done to reverse it.

    It's hard to accept that Devereaux was acting as a lone wolf in doing his intelligence gathering. His blunder in leaving his tell tale e-mail signature made him expendable by PG&E but who can doubt that he was acting on orders from above. It served to make PG&E more sensitive to the program's critics but just a temporary strategic retreat.
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