PG&E wants to give customers concerned about radio wave emissions from its new SmartMeters the choice of retaining conventional meters — for a fee.
The utility's action comes in response to ongoing objections to SmartMeters, the devices that monitor customers' electricity and natural gas consumption and transmit the data to PG&E.
Nearly 9 million SmartMeters already have been installed throughout the utility's Northern and Central California territory, and the optional program would apply to the remaining 1 million meters that are to be replaced in 2012.
In Sebastopol, a hotbed of opposition to the new meters, PG&E has installed 25 percent of its planned SmartMeters, compared with 80 percent installation in Sonoma County overall.
"We know our customers there (in Sebastopol) are sensitive to SmartMeters," PG&E representative Brandi Ehlers said.
On Monday, PG&E officially asked the California Public Utilities Commission to approve the option of retaining conventional meters, known as analog meters.
A decision by the state commission could come as early as its next meeting on Jan. 12, a commission spokeswoman said.
"This is an important concession from PG&E," said Sandi Maurer of Sebastopol, founder of the EMF Safety Network, which questions the safety, accuracy and security of SmartMeters.
But PG&E customers should have had the option all along to refuse SmartMeters, Maurer said, contending that the devices were "forced upon the public."
Maurer also said the proposed fee for retaining analog meters amounts to "a form of punishment."