A much-anticipated study of Pacific Gas and Electric's smart meters concluded that the devices are accurate and not to blame for higher energy bills that were the source of thousands of customer complaints.
But that assessment likely won't dampen criticism on the North Coast, where concerns about the new meters have mainly centered on the perceived health risks related to the electromagnetic frequencies that the devices emit.
The $1.4 million study commissioned by the California Public Utilities Commission did not address health concerns but instead focused on whether the meters accurately track energy use.
Commissioners sought the analysis after hundreds of PG&E customers in mainly the San Joaquin Valley complained last year that their utility bills skyrocketed after the high-tech meters were installed at their businesses or homes.
The findings were revealed Thursday at a PUC meeting in San Francisco.
Following a five-month review, The Structure Group of Houston concluded that the meters that were a part of the analysis performed within accepted margins of error.
The report said installation of the meters in the Central Valley last year coincided with a heat wave and rate increases, leading to higher-than-average utility bills for some PG&E customers.
The report also found that PG&E fostered widespread confusion about its own program by failing to address customer complaints, by confusing billing practices and in some cases by failing to notify customers about their new meter installation.
"We are pleased that The Structure Group's detailed analysis confirms the integrity of our meter program and provides assurance to customers that our meter readings are accurate," PG&E Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer Helen Burt said Thursday. "We also agree with its criticism of our failure to address customer concerns on a timely basis, and have taken steps to address that real shortfall in our program."
Nevertheless, some are still calling for a halt to more meters being installed on the North Coast and elsewhere in California until concerns about possible health problems related to the devices are addressed.
Some fear the radio frequencies used to transmit data from smart meters, as well as electronic emissions from laptops, cell phones, TVs and other devices, can cause "electrical sensitivity" and health problems ranging from chronic fatigue, headaches and insomnia, to heart ailments and cancer.
The World Health Organization, American Cancer Society and other major health organizations have found no definitive links between radio frequencies and ill health.
West county Supervisor Efren Carrillo, who has been inundated with concerns about the new meters, sent a letter to the PUC earlier in the summer calling for a moratorium on their installation in Sonoma County.
Carrillo on Thursday said that he also supports PG&E customers being able to opt-out of the SmartMeter program for a fee.
"It is not unexpected that the Structure Group evaluation showed accuracy is not a significant cause for concern," Carrillo said. "I do believe, however, that as described by the analysis, customer concerns should be better addressed if the CPUC is to allow continuance of installation."
Sandi Maurer, director of the Electromagnetic Field Safety Network in Sebastopol, dismissed the Structure Group report on Thursday, saying that its methodology was flawed.
Maurer has put signs on the meters outside her house warning PG&E employees to not convert them. She said she is prepared to call the police if that request is not met.
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