What was intended as a "balanced format" discussion about PG&E's SmartMeter installation in Sonoma County became a hatefest against the utility Wednesday night when it pulled out at the last minute.
Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo said PG&E had promised to send a representative to participate in the Sebastopol forum, sparked by residents' concerns about the SmartMeters' safety and accuracy.
But Carrillo said he received a text message Wednesday afternoon from PG&E saying it would not attend. Because the format was changed to include include an open exchange with the audience, he said the company representatives "no longer feel they can have a meaningful dialog with their customers."
"I do find it rather insulting that they would not participate in this format," he said, prompting jeers and hisses aimed at PG&E from the crowd of about 300.
Carrillo organized Wednesday's meeting after he received hundreds of complaints from West County residents about PG&E's replacement of the old, analog meters with the new meters that beam digital information via radio waves to the company for tracking and billing purposes.
Without PG&E on the stage at the Sebastopol Veteran's Building, two representatives from the Public Utilities Commission, which has jurisdiction over the utility, took the brunt of residents' distrust and venom.
Critics contend the radio waves cause a range of debilitating health problems ranging from chronic fatigue, headaches, insomnia, anxiety and depression to heart problems, high blood pressure and cancer.
When one of the panelists asked members of the audience if they opposed the new meters, nearly everyone raised their hands.
Judith Iam of Forestville said she was dismayed when the PUC's Marzia Zafar suggested that those with health and safety concerns write to the utility.
Zafar said the PUC has received about 600 complaints about the meters, fewer than 1 percent of the 5.5 million installed statewide. Most of those complaints, she said, involved meter inaccuracies not health concerns.