PG&E Faces Smart Meter Suit

By Published On: November 20, 2009

Pacific Gas & Electric was sued after installing smart meters in the Central Valley on claims that the new meters drove rates up. Plaintiffs filed a class action suit last month in the Superior Court of Kern County, alleging that PG&E and its meter supplier were involved in a “conspiracy” to “overcharge consumers.” “The allegations are untrue and without merit,” said PG&E spokesperson Paul Moreno of the class action smart meter suit. PG&E insists that the meters are accurate, that it continues to test meter accuracy, and will check meters upon request. The litigation comes on the heels of complaints by residents in the Central Valley that their utility bills doubled and tripled after the new meters were installed, although their energy use remained unchanged. PG&E customers voiced their concerns to state Senate majority leader Dean Florez (D-Shafter), who held two town hall meetings last month. PG&E representatives said the higher bills were a result of both hot weather and rate increases. Concerns were subsequently raised that increased rates may result in ratepayers being unable to pay their bills and lead to power shutoffs (Circuit, Nov. 6, 2009). According to Moreno, rate increases from last October and March 2009 pushed up kWh charges between about 3 and 8 cents. For example, those who consume between 200 and 300 percent of their energy baseline allowance saw their rates rise from 22.6 cents/kWh to 26 cents/kWh. Rates for those whose usage was 300 percent above the baseline went from 35.9 cents kWh to 44.3 cents kWh. According to the lawsuit, PG&E and its meter supplier, Wellington, engaged in unfair and deceptive practices, unjust enrichment, fraud, negligence, and breach of contract. The lawyer defines the class suing as all PG&E ratepayers with smart meters installed within the last four years and hit with higher rates. The California Public Utilities Commission scheduled a November 20 vote on a decision affecting customers with unmanageable utility bills and the new lawsuit but pulled it off the agenda just before press time. A proposed decision on regulators’ consent calendar would deny an attempt by The Utility Reform Network to better control utility shutoffs. On November 19, the Division of Ratepayer Advocates announced that disconnections by the state’s four major investor-owned utilities of low income customers increased 19 percent last year while disconnections of non-low income households remained constant. “Disconnecting more low income customers in this difficult economy creates undue health and safety risks,” stated Dana Appling, DRA director. About one third of California households are low income.

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