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PG&E rejects Sebastopol ban on SmartMeters

  • Lou Tavares of Sebastopol talks with Sebastopol council member Sarah Glade Gurney after the Sebastopol City Council voted unanimously Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 to ban the installation of PG&E SmartMeters. ((Kent Porter / Press Democrat))

Sebastopol and PG&E appear to be on a collision course following the city's adoption Thursday of a ban on the installation of SmartMeters, the controversial wireless devices that critics contend are a threat to public health.

PG&E, which is spending $2.3 billion to install SmartMeters throughout its service area from Eureka to Bakersfield, will not comply, a spokesman said.

The city's measure, citing the "potential risks to the health, safety and welfare of Sebastopol residents," imposed a moratorium, effective immediately, with a $500 fine for violations.

"We cannot agree to a moratorium," PG&E's Paul Moreno said.

As a state-regulated utility, PG&E "operates under the exclusive jurisdiction" of the state Public Utilities Commission, he said.

PG&E will continue to install SmartMeters in the city, Moreno said, noting residential gas and electric customers have the right to opt out of the technology.

PG&E notifies customers by phone and letter before installing SmartMeters and advises them of the right to decline them and pay monthly fees for that option, Moreno said.

Sebastopol has been ground zero for a leading SmartMeter resistance group, the EMF Safety Network, and opponents hailed the City Council's unanimous action at a special meeting called Thursday for that vote.

"I'm glad to see democracy in action. It's heartwarming," said Alan Horn of Sebastopol, who spoke in favor of the ordinance.

City Manager Larry McLaughlin said it would remain in effect until the council takes further action.

"It starts today and it will last indefinitely," McLaughlin told the council and 14 people attending the meeting.

Asked by Councilman John Eder what happens to residents who want SmartMeters removed from their homes, McLaughlin, who is also the city's attorney, said the measure "cannot compel removal of meters already installed."

PG&E has 21,000 gas and electrical meters at homes and businesses in the Sebastopol area and has upgraded 7,100 of them to SmartMeters, Moreno said.

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