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4,400 PG&E customers opt-out of SmartMeter program so far

About 4,400 PG&E customers opted out of the utility's controversial SmartMeter program in the two weeks after state regulators first gave them the choice.

Santa Cruz, Marin and San Francisco counties accounted for the most withdrawal requests. But Mendocino County virtually tied Santa Cruz for top of the list when adjusted for population.

More than 250 Mendocino households opted out of the program from Feb. 1 to Feb. 14, accounting for 0.73 percent of households in the county.

In Sonoma County, 230 households requested the opt out, approximately 0.11 percent of households.

But Sebastopol resident Sandi Maurer said the numbers aren't a true gauge of PG&E customers' desire to avoid the wireless meters.

Many of her fellow SmartMeter opponents are declining to opt out because of the cost, which includes a one-time $75 fee and a monthly charge of $10.

“The fees are arbitrary and punitive,” she said, criticizing a plan that charges people to keep what they have always had while charging nothing for having a SmartMeter.

PG&E says the new fees will cover the cost of reinstalling analog meters that had been removed and paying for meter readers.

Of the 4,400 customers in the first wave of opt-outs, 2,800 still have analog meters in place while 1,600 had SmartMeters that need removal, according to PG&E.

Ultimately PG&E expects as many as 150,000 of its more than 5 million residential customers to opt out of the network of wireless meters.

To do so, customers can go to PG&E's website, visit one of 74 local offices or call the SmartMeter hotline at 866-743-0263.

“We are really looking forward to having our customers reach out to us and let us know if they are interested in the opt out by May 1,” PG&E spokeswoman Brandi Ehlers said.

Supporters of the high-tech meters tout them as a way to bring more efficiency and accuracy to the nation's electrical grid while educating users about power usage.

When the California Public Utility Commission approved their use in 2006, members heralded the decision as a “once-in-generation” retrofit that would propel customers into the 21st century.

But critics have been unrelenting in claims the wireless meters cause a host of maladies ranging from migraines to cancer. Some 90,000 signed up for a delayed installation list that was created in response to the fury.

Mendocino County's early emergence among the counties with the most opt-outs is hardly a surprise. The county has been a center of opposition to the meters and had one of the largest percentage of users on the delayed installation list.

Approximately 12.7 percent of PG&E customers in Mendocino signed up for the list, second only to Lake County where the percentage was 13.7 percent. Santa Cruz was third at 11.8 percent.

In Sonoma County, 4.4 percent of customers signed up for the list.

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