As the anger over smart meters swelled in California in recent years, Pacific Gas & Electric had more than 92,000 customers request that their smart meter installation be delayed.
No matter what the reason was for not wanting the new technology, customers in PG&E’s territory were given a green light to opt out just over two months ago. Every single customer in PG&E’s territory, which serves about five million electric customers, has been alerted through bill inserts of this new choice. The people on the delay list were also contacted individually through mail and telephone calls.
The result is that about 15,100 have chosen to keep their old, analog meter for an extra cost. That equates to about 0.3 percent of PG&E's electric customer base. During that time, about 6,800 customers on the delay list have called the California utility to specifically ask for a smart meter. The opt-out figure is about one-tenth of the original 150,000 estimated by PG&E when it submitted its original opt-out proposal to the California Public Utility Commission.
“A lot has changed since then,” said Greg Snapper, spokesperson for PG&E. The CPUC’s decision that only analog meters, rather than smart meters with their radios turned off, changed the cost of the opt-out program, which probably had something to do with why the numbers weren’t as high as they might have otherwise been. Even so, fewer than one-third of the people on the delay list have even responded to PG&E after the opt-out was finalized.
Also, it could just be that some people want the choice, even if they don’t exercise it. That was the result of an opt-out program in Maine, which saw a lower uptake than initially anticipated.
That’s good news for other utilities, like PG&E’s neighbors Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric, which are both waiting for a finalized opt-out ruling from the CPUC. SoCal Edison just installed its four-millionth smart meter, a mark that should not be affected too much by any opt-out ruling if PG&E and Central Maine Power are any guide.
The experiences are important because there is a small but vocal minority that continues to rally against smart meters, citing claims of health risks. At The Networked Grid on Wednesday, Jim Greer, COO of Oncor in Texas noted that no one was clamoring for the return of the rotary phone or cell phone that came in its own small suitcase, but various groups don’t want an upgraded meter.
Privacy is another concern, and one that comes in part from some Tea Party groups. For any state building opt-out plans, there are different solutions to meet the concerns of customers. For those concerned about privacy, it may be easier to offer AMR, whereas those who have health concerns might not be satisfied with anything but their 40-year-old analog meter. In the case of privacy, there is also the chance to educate people that smart meter data is securely transmitted, as SDG&E is trying to do.
No matter what the reasons for hating smart meters, California, which will likely have the highest opt-out rates of the country, will be instructive. The CPUC is expected to rule on the opt-out for the other two large utilities later this month, and phase two of the proceedings could come soon after. In phase two, the CPUC will rule on whether entire communities can opt out and look at whether the current costs are adequate for the numbers that are opting out.
At PG&E, the figures for opting out have been fairly steady since the announcement first went out on February 1. The utility expects that to continue through May 1, at which point the delay list will be tossed out and smart meter installations will continue as regular business. Of course people can still opt out after May 1, but there will be no further delays.
“We’re happy to fulfill the requests for customers that don’t want them,” said Snapper, “but we now look forward to helping our customers better understand smart meters.”