PG&E can charge customers to nix SmartMeters

SAN FRANCISCO — Pacific Gas & Electric Co. can start charging its customers fees of up to $10 per month if they don't want to have wireless "smart meters" installed in their homes, according to a decision Wednesday by California regulators.

Four members of the California Public Utilities Commission approved a proposal that allows PG&E to charge residential customers an initial fee of $75, plus $10 each month, to opt out of the company's highly contested $2.2 billion SmartMeter program.

Critics contend SmartMeters, which electronically monitor a home's electricity and gas usage, emit harmful levels of radiation. PG&E maintains that the meters are safe and will bring down the utility's meter reading costs.

Dozens of opponents and advocacy groups from Fairfax to San Luis Obispo testified at the commission's meeting in its downtown San Francisco headquarters. After the vote, they erupted into a chorus of chants of "We say no fee, charge the utility" before being led out of the hall by law enforcement officers.

"We are allowing an opt-out option. We're not taking a step backwards," said CPUC President Michael Peevey, who drafted the proposal. "We want to empower customers, and we think this a major step to do so."

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