DRA Says Shutoffs & Smart Meters Begin Havoc

By Published On: December 4, 2009

After the state-sponsored consumer advocate reported that “smart” meters’ ability to remotely disconnect consumers from energy supplies may be increasing shutoffs, California Public Utilities Commission president Mike Peevey called for regulatory intervention. The Division of Ratepayer Advocates urged a curtailment in shutoffs. DRA notes that the cost to consumers to be shut off and then reconnected with a new deposit is high. The agency pegs the cost of reconnections at $230 million/year. “California’s relatively high reconnection rates beg the question: are utilities using disconnection as a convenient revenue collection tool rather than as a last resort?” PG&E, the leader in installing smart meters, saw its disconnection rate up 69 percent over 2008, according to the November 12 Division of Ratepayer Advocates report. Southern California Edison’s disconnect rate was 11 percent higher over last year. San Diego Gas & Electric was reported to be 4 percent higher. SoCal Gas shutoffs decreased by 14 percent, according to DRA. One-quarter of all the state’s customers are enrolled in the discount program called California Alternative Rates for Energy (CARE). Those consumers have incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level--$43,200/year for a family of four. The new meters have yet to reflect regulators’ goal of shaping electricity consumption with time-of-use price feedback from the new installations. The devices do allow utilities the ability to turn on and off a customer’s energy from a central communications office. Utility field staff is no longer needed to physically turn off and on power at a customer site.

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