When it comes to new technology, apparently looks are everything.
Consumer groups recently criticized PG&E for rolling out new "smart meters" that report power consumption more efficiently than the old manual variety. A new report has just found that the meters themselves are actually fine. The independent analysis says the devices are highly accurate, despite thousands of customer complaints.
The report found that it was PG&E's roll-out that was the problem.
The state's Public Utilities Commission president, Michael Peevy, told reporters, "I am happy to hear that PG&E's Smart Meters are functioning properly, but disturbed by PG&E's lack of customer service and responsiveness."
The $1.4 million study, conducted by a Houston firm, determined that the meters are performing without any unusual problems. After reviewing side-by-side tests, the study concluded that any jump in rates that consumers see is due to under-reporting by the worn-down old meters.
Smart meters are currently installed in 5.5 million households, mostly in the Central Valley and here in the Bay Area
The company plans to install 10 million of the new boxes by 2012.
The report also finds that PG&E neglected to respond to consumers' concerns about the new equipment, and that the company's lack of responsiveness is to blame for much of the hysteria. Over a thousand complaints poured in, and PG&E's response was minimal.
The company is hoping to turn around their negative image by creating an advisory group. The group would ensure that PG&E is following industry practices, including the creation of a dedicated Smart Meter help line. But that might not be enough to assuage some of the more outlandish complaints about the meters, such as the fear that invisible waves may make people sick, in contradiction with available evidence.
Matt Baume is frequently in contradiction with available evidence.