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Smart meters coming
Out with the old, in with the new.
Pacific Gas and Electric Company will roll out its new smart meters to Northern California customers beginning Nov. 1.
The smart meters replace the manually-read dial meters invented by Thomas Edison about 100 years ago.
"Meters have virtually remained unchanged in all this time," said PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno. "The old analog meters have been great workhorses, but it's time for change."
Moreno said the new meters will track electricity and gas use, and wirelessly transmit the data to the utility.
The new system will allow PG&E customers to see how and when they are using energy without having to wait for a monthly bill.
"Instead of getting a lump sum of energy used, customers can go online and see how and when they are using energy - whether hourly, daily or weekly," Moreno said. "By tracking usage, customers can use the information to help reduce consumption and lower their overall energy bills."
In the long run, the utility expects the program to benefit the environment by decreasing demand on the power grid, which, along with utilizing renewable energy sources, could reduce the need for additional fossil-fuel power plants, Moreno said.
The automatic system does put an end to meter readers. No more will backyard brush, growling dogs or locked gates interfere with collection of the data, Moreno said.
As the new systems are installed, Moreno said PG&E is trying to shift its meter readers into other positions within the company, but eventual personnel savings will be built back into the rates.
PG&E has already sank more than $1 billion into the new technology, which was offset by the previous rate increases.
The rollout of the new meters in the Bakersfield area sparked a backlash of complaints that the smart meters produced higher energy bills.
The complaints and the threat of a class-action lawsuit resulted in the California Pubic Utility Commission ordering an independent review of the meters by a Houston, Texas consulting group.
The finding was that smart meters deployed by the company not only worked accurately, but worked more accurately than the old meters, Moreno said.
The reviewer backed PG&E's claim that the 2009 heat wave and an energy-rate increase caused the spike in bills, which coincided with the installation of the new meters.
PG&E did, however, admit that it did not do a good job educating consumers about either the rate increases or the new smart meters technology - something the company is now doing to address customer concerns.
Moreno said prior to the installation of the meters in a particular area, customers will receive information about the program with their utility bills.
Colusa County customers will be the first in the Tri-County area to get the new smart readers, followed by Glenn and Tehama counties.