Pacific Gas & Electric asked the California Public Utilities Commission December 12 for another $939 million from ratepayers to install the latest high tech meters at its customers\u2019 residences and businesses in place of the originally proposed electromechanical analog devices. Contrary to what was reported by major media, the amount is the upfront funding requested in the CPUC filing. Earlier, regulators approved adding $1.7 billion into the rate base to cover the cost of PG&E\u2019s 20-year, universal electric and gas advanced meter program launched in November 2006. \u201cThis is just outrageous,\u201d said Mindy Spatt, The Utility Reform Network spokesperson. \u201cIt\u2019s a big experiment on the ratepayers dime.\u201d She added that while the program costs are known, the benefits are not. The proposed upgrade of 4.4 million solid-state digital electricity meters, according to Helen Burt, PG&E senior vice president, will enable \u201cfurther customer service improvements, more operational efficiencies and more options for customers to conserve energy and save on energy bills.\u201d That includes automated disconnections and connections and the potential to integrate emerging appliance technology--from remotely controlled thermostats, to home cooling and heating systems. The latest meters are expected to allow for two-way communication between PG&E and the ratepayer, specifically allowing customers to track their real time energy use and lower their energy bills. The latest devices also include a computer chip that lets the utility limit load coming into the home to avert rolling blackouts, said Jana Cory, PG&E Smart Meter program director. The utility hopes to offer residential peak pricing discounts next summer. Like the large customer critical peak pricing program, high rates would kick in for residences during peak periods for a maximum of 15 days a year. In turn, volunteering homeowners and renters would see off-peak prices five times lower. PG&E recently installed about 200,000 electromagnetic meters in the Bakersfield and Sacramento areas. The utility estimated using the more flexible meters would increase residential bills by about 1 percent for consumers using 550 kWh per month. That hike is on top of the expected 1 percent rate increase from the initial program. Under PG&E\u2019s request, electric customers who use less than 130 percent of their baseline would not see higher bills. \u201cConsumers should see benefits on their bills, largely from potentially procuring less expensive energy from demand response programs,\u201d noted Cory. PG&E also is tapping into the home network market and working with entrepreneurs on a range of remotely automated appliances. \u201cA year from now, we\u2019ll see companies with products and devices with controls on appliances,\u201d said Burt. If the CPUC approves PG&E\u2019s request, installation of new digital meters is expected to begin around late 2008. Smart metering deployment is expected to be finished in 2011.