Some PG&E customers have been telling us that when they call to ‘opt out’ of the smart meter program, PG&E is saying “sorry we don’t have any analogs left.” PG&E is also justifying the high ‘opt out’ fees by claiming that it must buy brand new analog meters for these customers.
Yet PG&E- along with their contractors Wellington Energy– have removed about 9 million analog electric meters from homes throughout Northern California. What happened to all these meters? Our public utility wouldn’t dispose of reliable analogs that have safely measured electricity usage for over 80 years, while serious questions remain about the safety, accuracy, and durability of the new ‘smart’ meters- would they?
Indeed, under the approving gaze of the CPUC, it appears that PG&E has- over the past several years- destroyed millions of perfectly functional analog electric meters. According to the EMF Safety Network:
“The Division of Ratepayer Advocates asked PG&E to explain what they did with the analog meters after they removed them and installed Smart Meters. PG&E responded that although they could have gotten $1 each ($1 x millions of meters) but because the vendors wanted the meters “sorted, boxed, and palletized”, PG&E decided selling the meters was not cost-effective. Instead PG&E disposed of millions of analog meters for free to scrap metal recyclers.”
Recent testimony from PG&E’s Steve Phillips as part of the CPUC ‘opt out’ proceeding confirms that the utility is now backtracking, purchasing thousands of new analog meters to serve the growing demand from ‘opt out’ customers:
“When we first purchased back in February, our first batch of analog meters we paid $13. But we’re forecasting going forward …that cost is now $28.”
So maybe we’re just a bit slow, but here at Stop Smart Meters! we’re trying to wrap our heads around this latest revelation. Are we to understand that despite problems related to fire safety, privacy, health damage, and mixed wireless signals leading to inaccurate bills, PG&E systematically removed and destroyed a significant part of the state’s utility infrastructure without a word from regulators?
How much would it have cost to simply store the analogs in one of PG&E’s existing facilities pending the outcome of investigations and the “opt out” proceeding? What PG&E appears to be saying is “we were too lazy to box up the meters so we just smashed them.”
From PG&E’s perspective, the quicker they could destroy the analogs, the more secure their profitable, but reckless StupidMeter™ program would become. However bad the problems became (and it’s hard to imagine a worse scenario than meters exploding and catching fire, and thousands of Californians reporting health damage from smart meters) PG&E could say that Californians are stuck with the new system because there simply were no analog meters available.
It’s not like PG&E didn’t know that there would be a demand for analog meters. From 2010, there was widespread public resistance to the smart meter program. The ‘smart’ thing would have been to hold on to these meters just in case. Now it appears that did not happen, in spite of protests. And PG&E now proposes to charge the public for mistakes made by its executives, who should have foreseen the demand for analogs and kept (at least some of) them in storage.
We’ve Been Taken for a Ride
This is not the first time that private corporations- acting as monopolies- have destroyed valuable public infrastructure in the name of profit and self-interest. Prior to the 1930’s the United States had one of the world’s most advanced light rail systems. Even in sprawling Los Angeles, the Pacific Electric “Red Cars” moved millions of people quickly and conveniently between suburbs and downtown. Such a system is today only a dream of city officials desperate to relieve congestion and reduce carbon emissions. How did we lose such a valuable transportation system?
Starting in the 1930’s, General Motors joined Firestone, Chevron (then Standard Oil), and other auto-related corporations to form National City Lines, who bought up the streetcar companies and gradually dismantled them, replacing them with noisy, polluting, and unreliable buses and forcing people into car ownership. Wonder why most places in America are impossible to get around except car? It’s not by choice. It’s by design.
GM and its partners were eventually convicted by the US Dept. of Justice for conspiracy to monopolize the local transportation field, and fined $5000. To re-build these systems today would cost hundreds of billions of dollars.
The stack of streetcars at top left are awaiting destruction by fire- insurance that the car and bus dominated landscapes of today would not be threatened by a viable alternative. The tragic tale is recounted in the excellent documentary Taken for a Ride, by Jim Klein and Martha Olson. This is a must-see film with obvious parallels to our modern day corporate abuses.
The (firmly entrenched) ideology that the future is always an improvement on the past- that technological complexity is always a benefit to society, that progress requires the continuous pursuit of the exciting, new and shiny, even when the existing system simply works better- is an ideology that’s been pushed hard by corporations with products to sell.
The inconvenient truth is that America’s transportation network has grown more dangerous and less affordable, despite extensive public relations efforts by GM. We are witnessing America’s utility system growing less reliable, less safe, and more expensive. But that hardly seems to matter to those in power. Utility corporations are making record profits and shareholders are happy. The same cannot be said for the public.
The question that the smart meter debacle has raised with perhaps more fervor and relevance than ever before: is it in the public’s best interest for private, self-interested corporations to continue to be responsible for essential public services like gas, electricity, and water? Or is there another alternative- with local areas responsible for providing their own services?
Will history repeat itself? Will we allow millions more analogs- with years of useful life remaining- to be destroyed just as the streetcars were? Or will we recognize the crime in progress- and take action to stop the degradation of our public infrastructure before it’s too late?
“The plan is to destroy public utilities, which you’ll find impractical to replace after you discover your mistake. Who are the corporations behind this? Why are they permitted to destroy valuable electric railways?”
-Edwin Quinby, in a warning to Americans in 1946