The following is written for customers of PG&E in Northern California, but it is also applicable to customers of other utilities around the US and internationally who are unjustifiably charging steep penalties simply to retain one’s analog utility meter.
As PG&E’s arbitrary May 1st deadline for ‘opting out’ of having a smart meter on your home approaches, we’re starting to get a lot of questions from people, asking what to do. That PG&E certified letter is sitting there on your desk, in the pile of tax papers, and you’ve heard a lot of different opinions about how to best protect yourself from all the documented dangers and violations of smart meters. Should you send back the form, essentially agreeing to pay hundreds- even thousands of dollars to PG&E over the coming years? Should you do nothing, refusing to pay opt out fees but also continuing to refuse access to the utility? Or should you just give up and let them install a smart meter, obeying the authorities despite the overwhelming evidence pointing toward a serious risk to our privacy, health, and safety?
Well it probably doesn’t come as any surprise that we would not recommend allowing a smart meter on your home, under any circumstance. But what are the risks and advantages of the other two options? What if you already have a smart meter installed and want it removed? What if you live in an apartment building with 100 meters on the other side of the wall? The answers are not simple. There is just no one sound bite that covers it. The legal, political, and social contexts surrounding this heated issue are constantly in flux. That doesn’t mean that you can’t adhere to some basic principles and defend your rights against the utility bullies.
As we are not lawyers we cannot offer you legal advice. But what we can do is to tell you what our plan is, being faced with the unreasonable choice of paying hundreds in fees or accepting a smart meter.
Here’s what we’re planning to do:
• Ignore their illegal opt out notice.
• Send the utility a certified letter informing them that they do not have permission to install a telecommunications device on our property.
• Secure our meters, change the locks, lock our gate, and post no trespassing utility signs. Tell any installer to leave immediately and call police if they do not comply.
• Refuse to pay any extra charges that might show up on our bill.
• Those in apartment buildings are organizing with other tenants, often getting the support of building managers/ owners (pdf). Organize a meeting and get a speaker.
Some people- for various reasons- are not up for a fight with their utility. If the only way to keep an analog meter on your home is by going along and paying PG&E’s extortion fee- then by all means pay the fee. Do not agree to having a smart meter on your home under any circumstances. We are telling you these devices are dangerous. Keep your distance! Plus, we imagine that obtaining any compensation for damages in the future will be far more difficult if you have agreed to a smart meter installation.
If you are worried about the cost, allowing a smart meter is far more expensive in the end, when you consider meter power consumption (adding about $3 or more onto the average monthly bill), inaccurate and inflated bills, risk of fire, and health damages from microwave radiation. Paying ten bucks a month is actually a bargain, when you consider the horrific alternative. This program should never have been approved by regulators in the first place. The smart grid is bad energy policy that is hurting people in the wallets, hurting health, and hurting the environment they’re pretending to save. That is why we need to protest, and refuse the fees, together.
It’s critical to understand your rights and the utility company’s rights. The one huge mistake we see people making again and again is deferring to the utility to tell them what their rights are. Do not call up the utility company to ask them what your rights are against the utility company. They will lie to you- their call center operators are trained to do so. If you want to know what your rights are, read the letter of the law or consult a lawyer.
Here’s what the California State Utility Code says:
Code 328.2(b) states: “No customer should have to pay separate fees for utilizing services that protect public or customer safety.”
Code 453. (b) states: “No public utility shall prejudice, disadvantage, or require different rates or deposit amounts from a person because of medical condition”
So, we’ve established that CA utilities may not charge people more based on medical condition or to protect safety. Being sickened by and sensitive to microwave radiation is a documented medical condition. Microwave radiation emitted by smart meters is a Class 2B carcinogen (pdf). The fire and electrical safety risks of smart meters have been well documented. Any fee charged to anyone who prefers an analog meter is therefore illegal.
Here’s what the US Federal Energy Act of 2005 says:
Title Xll, Subtitle E, Section 1252, (a), (14), (C) states: “Each electric utility subject to subparagraph (A) shall provide each customer requesting a time-based rate with a time-based meter capable of enabling the utility and customer to offer and receive such rate, respectively.”
It’s pretty clear at this point that smart meters are not mandatory. (Please post the legislation that makes them mandatory if you dispute this) Despite all the lies, the fabrications, and the bluster, the truth remains that smart meters were only legislated by Congress to be offered to people, not forced upon them. We repeat. There is no mandate. Opt out programs make the false assumption that there is some “requirement” that supersedes the contractual relationship between a utility and a property owner. This is simply not the case. There is a difference between utility company policy and the law. The latter always trumps the former and you can bet that the utilities seek to blur the line in the public mind, whenever and wherever possible.
Given questions about the legality of PG&E’s opt out program, we’re going to stand our ground, lock up our meters, send the utility letters of no consent, and refuse to pay any fees. If you are a lawyer, we’d like to hear from you.
Like any defiant act, there are risks. We cannot predict how the unruly animal known as our modern utility industry will react to this–certainly the law doesn’t seem to matter much to them. It is possible that they will attempt collection of unpaid opt out fees, or even shut off our power. That won’t go down well in court. And it certainly won’t go down well in the court of public opinion. We’re stocking up on candles and hedging our bets.
When this dispute ends up in a court of law, we will be in a much stronger position for not consenting to either the smart meter installation or the opt out fees. Make sure to document everything in writing via certified mail- we know many people who only communicate with the utility this way, to preserve a record. If you have suffered an injury or loss from the smart grid, lodge a formal complaint.
While possible, it is hard to imagine the utility shutting off power to thousands of people or entire towns. The public backlash from that kind of bullying would make the December shut off of twenty or so families in Santa Cruz County look like a picnic. Using such bullying tactics could risk the monopoly over power delivery and profits that these utilities hold so dear. There is just so much that people are willing to take before they demand change and choice.
Each of us has to make our own decision. Is it worse to have to pay thousands of dollars during your lifetime in protection racket fees? Or is it worse to risk a possible brief interruption of service during a historic showdown between thousands of ratepayers and the utility?
The moral of the story is that you should be confident in defying the utility, as part of a mass movement of ratepayers. Utilities failed to seek adequate permission for their failing smart grid plans. They are the ones who are desperately trying to make you believe you have no rights. They are the ones who are attempting to bluff their way through a debacle of their own making.
It’s time we called their bluff.Stop Smart Meters! See also: Ea O Ka Aina: How to avoid Smart Meters on Kauai 4/15/12 Ea O Ka Aina: Urgent call to halt Smart Meters 4/16/12 Ea O Ka Aina: Smart Meter Surveillance 4/8/12 .