Sebastopol, PG&E face off over SmartMeters again

  • PG&E Gas Service Representative Josh Izzarelli does a check on a smart meter on a home on High School Road in Sebastopol on Wednesday, March, 13, 2013 (Scott Manchester/The Press Democrat)

The city of Sebastopol's uneasy stalemate with PG&E over the installation of SmartMeters faces another test today when the two sides meet again.

The utility company is mostly honoring the city's moratorium on installing the controversial devices as the two sides prepare for their second informal meeting in as many weeks.

How long the company plans to hold off is a key point of contention that threatens to unravel the current detente.

Tensions escalated two weeks ago when police responded to a 911 caller who reported that a PG&E worker was installing a SmartMeter in violation of the city's ban. The worker left without being issued a citation.

PG&E responded by ceasing all operations in the city and requesting a meeting with city officials. The company has since resumed normal operations in the city, save for installing SmartMeters for residential customers.

City officials have requested that such installations be put on hold until state power authorities rule on the scope of opt-out programs for the devices. The city's moratorium, enacted Feb. 21 by a unanimous vote of the City Council, is specifically tied to the outcome of those hearings.

A spokesman for the California Public Utilities Commission, which is conducting the hearings, said Wednesday that it could be some time in the fall before a final decision is rendered.

At issue is whether PG&E customers have to pay to opt out of the SmartMeter program and whether entire communities can impose a ban on the devices.

Brittany McKannay, a PG&E spokeswoman, said Wednesday that the company cannot indefinitely hold off installing more SmartMeters for residential customers in Sebastopol until the state resolves the issues.

She said such installations will resume in Sebastopol once PG&E has a new communication plan for customers, including better conveying the "benefits" of SmartMeters and how residents can opt out of the program.

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