PG&E to pay $390,000 for snooping on SmartMeter critics

State power authorities approved a settlement in which PG&E will pay $390,000 for the company's role in a 2010 corporate spying scandal that targeted opponents of SmartMeters, including those living in Sebastopol.

In November 2010, PG&E executive William Devereaux used a fake identity to access Internet-based forums hosted by meter opponents. Devereaux, who oversaw the $2.2 billion program, resigned from the company two days after the ruse was exposed.

Sandi Maurer, a Sebastopol resident who uncovered the hoax, said Friday that she "appreciated" the state taking action. But she said it falls short of what she and other activists were seeking.

"We missed an opportunity to bring more of the story out, but they were fined," said Maurer, founder of the EMF Safety Network.

The case was the first test of an employee's social media use and whether it violated state public utility laws, which state that charges or services offered by power companies "shall be just and reasonable."

The settlement agreed to by PG&E, the California Public Utilities Commission and The Utility Reform Network, a consumer group, avoided answering that question.

PG&E acknowledged that Devereaux's "conduct was misleading" and violated the company's internal codes of conduct. But the company maintains that the former executive's behavior did not violate any state laws.

The company insisted that Devereaux acted alone, despite evidence that other PG&E employees accessed activist forums. Devereaux also described SmartMeter opponents as "insurgents" in emails that he authored.

CPUC staff characterized Devereaux's actions as indicative of a "culture at PG&E that transcends zealousness and borders on outright hostility to those parties that represent views that PG&E does not agree with."

But Administrative Law Judge Jean Vieth, who agreed to the settlement, wrote that none of the parties had shown that any other employees other than Devereaux used an alias to access activist websites.

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