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Chris Faust thinks San Diego Gas & Electric’s approach to installing the new, much-ballyhooed smart meters isn’t “smart.” In fact, he alleges, it’s dishonest — part of the utility’s campaign to raise rates whenever possible and by whatever means it takes.

On the afternoon of February 8, as he stood in the front yard of his house in Bay Park, he was approached by an SDG&E employee who’d just stepped out of a typical service truck used by the utility. According to Faust, the clean-cut young man said he needed to perform “routine maintenance” of the meter at the side of the house. “When I saw this guy with a clean uniform — he didn’t look like a maintenance guy — my bullshit radar went on. I’m an old guy, 62. When you’ve been around awhile, you get an intuitive sense when something just doesn’t seem right.”

Faust was puzzled. As far as he knew, there’d been neither a gas leak nor a meter malfunction. He says that he hadn’t received a notice from the utility. He asked if, perhaps, his wife had made an appointment, but the SDG&E man (whom Faust described as “charming, gracious, and polite”) replied that no appointment had been set. And when the increasingly suspicious homeowner asked just what the maintenance entailed, an admission finally came forth: this unannounced visit was for the purpose of replacing the meter.

Faust says that when he told the meter man that he wasn’t interested in the swap, he was informed that he had the right to refuse — at least temporarily. However, he was advised that eventually the utility would shut off his gas at some undetermined time, which was cryptically linked to completion of the conversion process. Faust says that the employee attempted to “intimidate” him by warning that if Faust initially refused to allow the exchange, SDG&E would enter his home to “inspect” his appliances for some sort of “compliance,” the nature of which wasn’t explained. Faust says he replied that neither access nor the utility’s maintenance responsibilities extend into one’s home, whereupon the worker “acquiesced,” reluctantly agreeing that the company did not have the right of entry.

Exactly what rights does SDG&E have with respect to the meter on a customer’s property? For an answer to that question, I contacted Michael Shames, the executive director of the Utility Consumers’ Action Network, a not-for-profit group that describes its mission as, among other things, protecting consumers from “utility abuse.” Shames, whose organization takes credit for saving San Diego consumers “billions of dollars in unfair utility rate hikes” since 1983, seemed unsympathetic to Faust’s complaints. According to Shames — whose battles with the utility have been numerous, lengthy, and well documented — SDG&E has wide latitude when it comes to meters. He states that, because the San Diego monopoly owns the meters, it is entitled — through the jiggery-pokery of easement law — to get access to them as it pleases without notice. Further, says Shames, the company can repair or replace meters without approval. The sole right of the customer, he opines, “is the right to an accurate meter.”

For its part, the utility, which is one of five subsidiaries of the energy behemoth Sempra, has little to say about Faust’s allegations of lies and intimidation in the swap-out process. SDG&E’s local media gatekeeper, April Bolduc, rebuffed my attempts to uncover details that might validate (or cast doubt on) Faust’s account. Apparently peeved about a past story that delved into the company’s practices, she announced, “We don’t do interviews with the Reader because factual information doesn’t make it into articles.” She suggested that I go to the company’s website, which she claimed has “the answers to all questions” about the smart-meter installation process. Before shunting me off to the website, however, she did submit that the company has an “extensive” training program for its meter-swappers.

Just what is the extensive training? Does it, as Faust suggests, consist of a carefully crafted, pseudo-sales script intended to deceive and intimidate customers? Does it provide the installers with responses to objections — prepare them with responses to “noncompliant” customers, those who ask inconvenient or unexpected questions? The website to which I was directed doesn’t say. Perhaps these just aren’t “frequently asked” questions. It does, however, furnish clues as to how SDG&E is selling the smart-meter concept to San Diegans.

According to the smart-meter website, the new meters constitute a “mandatory service upgrade,” albeit one that, SDG&E claims, “can help save energy on high-use days, keeping the lights on for everyone.” The website also proclaims, “Smart meters can also help you make choices to save money on your energy bill every day,” yet goes on to assure customers, “There are no plans to charge customers for time-of-day billing.” But if energy consumers aren’t penalized for peak-hour usage, what incentive do they have, one might ask, to do their laundry at 3:00 a.m. or forgo the air conditioner in midafternoon? Chris Faust has a theory. He’s convinced that the company will abandon its current flat-rate billing in favor of billing that — in the name of energy conservation and brownout mitigation — will penalize those who choose to consume energy during conventional hours.

Faust, who bought his home on Garfield Road in the mid-’90s, alleges that not only does SDG&E employ lies and intimidation to effect the changeover but that the end result — the mandatory service upgrade — is merely another ploy to raise San Diegans’ rates. Faust says that the swap-out technicians (whether from the utility or its contractor, VSI Meter Services) are part of the sales process wherein locals are, in effect, being sold a bill of goods.

I asked Michael Shames if he’d heard from locals with similar experiences. “I think it might be an aberration,” he says. Shames is an advocate of the smart meters. He doesn’t believe that increased profits for the utility and benefits to consumers are mutually exclusive, noting, “This is one of those rare situations when I support what SDG&E is doing.” He does note, however, that the changeover adds $650 million to the company’s rate base, which, loosely defined, is the valuation of a utility’s assets for the purpose of determining the rates a utility is permitted to charge its customers. (Whether the smart-meter costs should be properly considered part of SDG&E’s assets — as a necessary component of operating expenses — continues to be a point of contention.)

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Comments

usgs00 April 7, 2010 @ 12:57 p.m.

So, when I heard noise outside my home, I confronted the technician who was already dismantling my meter. He said the new upgraded meter meant that readings could be taken by wi-fi and eliminate man hours of meter readers, walking the neighborhood. Is there any truth to that explanation?

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a2zresource April 7, 2010 @ 2:20 p.m.

"SDG&E’s local media gatekeeper, April Bolduc, rebuffed my attempts to uncover details that might validate (or cast doubt on) Faust’s account. Apparently peeved about a past story that delved into the company’s practices, she announced, 'We don’t do interviews with the Reader because factual information doesn’t make it into articles.'"

Attorneys for Sempra Energy and SDG&E already know my blogs, having shown them to me during depositions. They also question my past designation by FBI and the US Department of Justice as a federal crime victim. If anyone has looked at the dates of my blogs specifically at the Reader, then they all come after the initial July 2007 guilty verdicts in UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. SDG&E. http://www.justice.gov/usao/cas/press/cas70713-SDGEVerdict.pdf

For those who don't know about the Encanto Gas Holder site, my blog photos all are of the stuff that has been coming out of that lot for the past decade and which SDG&E swears has no asbestos in it. Right. What they don't tell anyone about are the reams of asbestos sample analysis reports that were taken where the percentage of asbestos in those samples ranged all the way up to 50-60%. SDG&E also won't tell you that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) through its Division of Ratepayer Analysts is still very interested in the Encanto Gas Holder site demolition that took place in 2000-2001, and that SDG&E is forbidden from passing along any legal costs from that matter to you customers.

In case nobody has figured it out yet, SDG&E's current application in front of CPUC for a Wildfire Expense Balancing Account (WEBA application) is just another way of passing along SDG&E's "cost of doing business" by not putting power lines underground until at least 2063, so that any future wildfire-related legal costs (drumroll please...) get passed on to you customers.

SDG&E claims that CPUC has the constitutional duty to protect Sempra Energy stockholders from SDG&E practices, even when SDG&E employees are negligent; details on this as part of the WEBA application are somewhere in my earlier blogs.

It's amazing and/or sickening what you can learn about your local power company by subscribing to all documents they file with CPUC, so that a link shows up in your daily email.

http://subscribecpuc.cpuc.ca.gov/

As for SDG&E's wifi smart meters and the vulnerabilities to customers of having them installed, wanted or not:

http://www.electricityforum.com/news/jan10/Expertsfearhackingofnewsmartmeters.html

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a2zresource April 8, 2010 @ 10:28 a.m.

Oops... CPUC's "Division of Ratepayer Analysts" should have been Division of Ratepayer Advocates

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Equalizer April 8, 2010 @ 12:48 p.m.

Faust has much common sense. $650 million "upgrade" and SDGE won't charge us for it? I've got a bridge in Brooklyn for you... Just like the unneeded Sunrise Powerlink, SDGE tries to ram hardware down out throats and then charge us more. If they succeed in changing all meters to "smart", next year they WILL say it is "smart" to charge us more for peak period power usage. No doubts that IS coming. Shames missed one right customers have.. The right to glitch-free uninterrupted service. The new meters have computer chips with remote RF access. Has anyone ever had problems with their computers or cellphones? Happens constantly. Guess what happened to SDGE's test run installation of many "smart" meters in TierraSanta? A simple software upgrade was sent to them, and they all turned OFF! Whole area was power OUT for a long period until they could all be reset. No wire problems, was SOFTWARE computer problem! Who wants to be made MORE vulnerable to power outages without our permission? Ask the installation man about that if he says it is an "upgrade". The Equalizer

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a2zresource April 8, 2010 @ 7:39 p.m.

RE #4:

The only thing I can reasonably see myself doing to put at least a little distance between me and the grid is to keep adding a few solar panels at a time to an off-grid setup...

"On Keeping 3+ CFL Bulbs Burning Free For Life" http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

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Founder April 9, 2010 @ 6:17 p.m.

Besides saving money paying "meter readers" what the new "smart meters" will do is allow SDG&E to request yet another entirely NEW RATE TIERED system from the California Public Utilities Commission because they will then be able to not only tell how much energy you use BUT AT WHAT TIME DURING THE DAY YOU USE IT!

You can be sure that they will want to charge more for daytime usage than nighttime usage which is not something they can do now because they do not (yet) have a way to measure that; but with the smart meters they will!

Any cost saving from not having to pay so many folks to be "meter readers" will be swallowed up by new meter costs so the net (no pun intended) result will be additional rate increases, especially for the working poor because they will not have the luxury of being home at "off hours" to do their clothes and other high wattage chores!

We consumers should demand rate (again no pun intended) increases in the amount that SDG&E pays us for the energy we put back into the grid and have that also dependent upon the time of day instead of being reimbursed at the lowest rate for "our" produced power!

Fair is fair and SDG&E should not be allowed to AGAIN get to rip us off while they pay big profits to their own share holders! This will encourage more folks to install larger Solar systems and also help keep some of San Diego's GREEN in our own pockets...

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a2zresource April 10, 2010 @ 4:39 p.m.

RE #6:

I'm only a recent subscriber at http://subscribecpuc.cpuc.ca.gov/ but I'll be looking for any application for a new tiered rate system from SDG&E.

Most recently, SDG&E March 15 application (pursuant to the new state law requiring solar-panel customers to be paid for their excess electricity pumped back into the grid) does mention the benefits of smart meters as to keeping those Net Energy Metering customers aware of hoe much electricity they've been credited with in the last 12 months.

The big problem I foresee in this is that those customers also have to be FERC Qualifying Facilities before SDG&E will even think about actually paying... see the required FERC form at http://www.ferc.gov/docs-filing/forms/form-556/form-556.pdf

I guess that since I've mentioned SDG&E's A.10-03-XXX here, I might as well blog it up.

NB: If anyone is interested in intervening in the CPUC decision on how much those solar-panel NEM customers of SDG&E get paid, then search the California Public Utilities Code on how to get paid doing it (sections 1801-1812), and then search the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) website for SDG&E application A.10-03-XXX or "Application of San Diego Gas & Electric Company (U 902 E) Proposing a Net Surplus Compensation Rate Pursuant to Assembly Bill 920" It's also a good idea to look up the CPUC Rules for starting a practice before the CPUC.

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Visduh April 12, 2010 @ 8:25 a.m.

It is interesting that Shames actually sees something good coming out of these new meters. His agreeing with SDGE is rather a first, I think. Generally he complains about everything SDGE proposes. So, Shames must think these meters will result in ratepayer savings, as in if you use the electricity during off-peak times, you'll see a saving. That's the way it should be. The need for these "peaker" generating plants, such as the one recently built in Escondido, would be much diminished if the load was less variable during the day, week, month and year. Plants like those are costly, and when used only a fraction of the time, represent a waste of assets.

The ability to read the meters wirelessly is a good feature. Having to physically look at every meter every month is a throwback to the era of the horse and buggy. In my low density neighborhood, the meter reader literally drives from house to house in a small pickup truck. That just adds to the carbon footprint of each household or business (for those who have concern for the concept.)

But, as a ratepayer, if you expect to see some benefit from these new meters, be prepared to suffer disappointment. SDGE isn't putting them in to save you money. It is putting them in so that it will be even more profitable. That company has never done anything to help out the ratepayer.

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a2zresource April 12, 2010 @ 10:28 a.m.

RE #8:

I also suspect that smart metering will allow SDG&E to brown-out newer "smart" appliances at residential addresses during peak usage, if the demand by commercial customers so dictates. As it is now, we residents are admonished not to run our major appliances during normal business hours...

This suspicion of mine is why I urge home-owning SDG&E customers to have a little off-grid generating capacity of our own, besides reducing our monthly energy bill and having that capacity as a self-insurance against wildfire outages and other grid failures (see #5 above for "On Keeping 3+ CFL Bulbs Burning Free For Life").

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Founder April 13, 2010 @ 12:01 p.m.

If you live in the City Of SD, check out the proposed new City Ordinance:

O-19930 SD Clean Generation Program

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a2zresource April 13, 2010 @ 12:35 p.m.

RE #10:

This could be a good deal for people wanting to do a permit-required grid-connected residential solar upgrade.

Personally, I'm not tying any solar panels I have or will get in the future to the power grid. There's too much paperwork and federal/state regulatory hoops to jump through for my tastes. Plus, my objective by installing off-grid solar panels is to protect myself from grid brown-out/failure while avoiding the new City of San Diego fee on grid-connected solar upgrade permits.

For those who want the best of both worlds, I understand that it is possible to pay all of the fees and have all the work done for a grid-connected solar panel setup, THEN install a cutoff switch so that the only time one is actually connected to the grid is whenever one has to power down the home system during maintenance. With smart meters installed, SDG&E may get credit for the time when the QF house is online but not for most of the time when the house is providing power that does not go to the grid. You can avoid the FERC QF regulatory hearings by simply forfeiting excess power pumped into the grid to SDG&E.

For sneaky people, it may be possible to supply excess power only to one's neighbors on your side of the street as an electricity cooperative that is beyond CPUC jurisdiction and that does not require any FERC QF approval... but I'll have to go back through the California Public Utilities Code to find the exact code sections that cover that topic.

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Joe Poutous April 13, 2010 @ 1:56 p.m.

Any wired computer can be hacked. These smart meters are basically computers hanging off the sides of our houses, connected to a wireless network.

Imagine the fun a really smart, really bored 14 year old that knows how to hack could have shutting down the entire neighborhood of the popular girl that wouldn't talk to him.

  • Joe
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a2zresource April 15, 2010 @ 11:45 a.m.

RE #12:

LOL!

The last time I was tangentially involved in anything like that, it involved a high school district admin program back in the 1970s. If I remember correctly, the district's HP2000F sys op was cool about our brut-force password entry/mangling of records and just ran the backup tape from 5 pm that day, copied well before our evening school hack attack...

The district shall remain nameless.

Go, Matadors!

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Susan B Jan. 10, 2011 @ 3:18 p.m.

One of the additional, very alarming things about Smart Meters is that the high bursts of radiation can impact one's health. This is something that San Diego County residents are largely unaware of, unlike in Northern CA (SF Bay area). Marin County has criminalized the installation of these dangerous devices. Mine was installed on my bedroom wall, near my headboard. Ringing ears, sleeping problems (severe), headaches, pressure in head, dizziness, emf sensitivity and other common side effects from exposure to RF radiation resulted. Took me six months to figure this out, with the help of an environmental physician. SDG&E refuses to remove the meter, even with a strongly worded doctor letter demanding this.

Smart Meters are a major hazard to our health, our privacy, and our security. They need to be removed, all of them. La Mesans, San Diegans, how about learning more about this and organizing to see to it that we are protecting our freedoms and health in this situation?

visit www.emfsafetynetwork.org for more info on what is going on in Northern CA.

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