California PUC Delays Opt Out Decision. And Delays…..And Delays….And Delays

mn-CPUC28_PH_0502891213-1By Josh Hart, Director StopSmartMeters.Org

You may have heard that there is a ‘smart’ meter opt out in California, where people have the choice of an analog meter on their home, for a fee.

Well, unfortunately you have been misled.   Millions of people- including many whose health has deteriorated because of the meters (as confirmed by their physicians) continue to be forced to live next to ‘smart’ meters on their walls, stuck on buildings like little electronic warts.  For the rich, who have choices about where they live, and who can afford large homes on acres of land, there is a choice.   For those who can only afford to live in dense or subsidized housing, the choice is often radiation sickness in the home, or a tenuous existence on the streets.

The arrests of ordinary mothers defending their community from ‘smart’ meters in West Marin in December 2010 brought national media attention to the backlash and was effective at keeping PG&E’s smart meters out of the area.

The ‘opt out’ policy has been a good move for the utility and smart grid industries.  Back in 2011, because the major CA utilities were refusing to remove unwanted ‘smart’ meters that were causing health problems, the population grew increasingly agitated.  People were taking direct action to stop the deployments, and to have meters removed by third party electricians after they were installed by corporations springing up to absorb federal stimulus money: companies like Wellington and Corix.  Clearly the utilities had to find some way to manage the pressure cooker of public outrage.  They saw a future of communities organizing to have their smart meters removed- a future where people were taking back their power en masse – and with it, utility company profits.  Something had to be done.  That something was the ‘opt out’.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved an ‘opt out’ program in February 2012, without evaluating the legality of the fees and without holding hearings. Then they opened a second phase of the opt out proceeding to do what they should have done in the first place before approving the fees (not to mention the meters): take testimony, briefs and hold hearings.

The public argued, ‘How can they introduce an ‘opt out’ when we never opted in?’ In reality, everyone already has an ‘opt out.’  It’s called property rights. 

If the smart meter program is not mandatory (it isn’t) then by definition, we have a choice.  This is a lesson to not only take back your power from the utilities and corrupt governments- don’t give it up in the first place by subscribing to the version of reality and assumptions dictated by the ‘authorities.’

For some, the admission by the CPUC of our right to ‘opt out’ was a victory because people could finally restore the analog meter without the hassle of risking disconnect and ‘official disapproval’. For others the hassles continue as utilities like PG&E install ‘trojan horse’ smart meters that look like analogs, and force ‘radio off’ digital meters that still make people sick with ‘dirty electricity’ and violate privacy.   What seemed like a victory to some people at the time has turned out to be just another in a long string of abuses by the utilities.  The lesson?  Push for what’s right and don’t compromise your ideals.

California’s experience should be a warning to other states and activists working to stop smart meters.  ‘Opt outs’ are not the solution.  What is?  A full safety recall of a hazardous product that should never have been brought to ‘market’.

CA Gov. Jerry Brown will be remembered for his permissiveness in allowing a state of corruption to reign at the CPUC

CA Gov. Jerry Brown will be remembered for his permissiveness in allowing a state of corruption to reign at the CPUC

California’s ‘opt out’ policy has been implemented unevenly and unfairly, with some individuals and communities losing out big time.  Business owners and workers, apartment and condominium complex dwellers, the poor, and those living in areas where utilities are of a municipal or cooperative nature- entire communities- none of these have benefited from the so-called ‘opt out’ policy, which the CPUC claims “provides a choice to customers.” (pdf of CA ‘opt out announcement) By selling the individual rights to be marginally safer in one’s home, the utilities have implemented a 21st century model of criminal extortion endorsed by the captured and deeply corrupted CPUC and the even more compromised Governor Jerry Brown (who has PG&E executives working as his staff). In the process the utilities have generated an unprecedented level of public resentment, stimulating interest in alternatives to utility service just as these alternatives become economically viable.

"Trojan horse" analog meters like this one have been widely installed, in clear violation of the weak CPUC opt out policy.

“Trojan horse” analog meters like this one have been widely installed, in clear violation of the already weak CPUC opt out policy.

The introduction of the ‘opt out’ fees was staggered on people’s bills.  Some say this tactic has been intentional, designed to reduce the risk of a coordinated backlash if the fees appeared on people’s bills simultaneously.  Some bills include ‘opt out’ fees when people still have ‘smart’ meters, or ‘trojan horse’ smart meters that are designed to look like analogs.   Utilities have been collecting millions of dollars in fees based on this scam.  Others have had analog meters on their homes for months and haven’t been billed a dime, such as in Fairfax in Marin County- the first local government (of 15 in CA alone) to outlaw the devices.  A large number of CA residents have been refusing to pay ‘opt out’ fees, and despite widespread threats by the utility, no one has been disconnected.

If the utilities wanted to devise a system that would drive communities apart, pitting neighbor against neighbor, they could not have done a better job.  One woman who suffers from constant ringing and grinding in her ears since the six smart meters on her bedroom wall went in, and who contacted us for help says, “I asked my neighbors to also ‘opt out’ and told them about my symptoms but they said they weren’t worried about it.  Of course they don’t have six ‘smart’ meters on their bedroom wall.”  Meanwhile she has lost the use

For residents who live on the opposite side of a bank of meters like this one, there is no "opt out" or "choice" -- one way the 'opt out' policy discriminates against the poor.

For residents who live on the opposite side of a bank of meters like this one, there is no “opt out” or “choice” — one way the ‘opt out’ policy discriminates against the poor.

of half of her house.  If this isn’t a ‘taking’ under the law, what is?  The imposition of a price tag on one’s health and home has been a heartbreaking and perverse development, most damaging to the young, the old, and the vulnerable.

There is a growing proportion of the population who have been denied relief from a bungled and reckless ‘smart’ grid.  Gradually, the aggrieved parties are slowly getting together, realizing that we are far from alone.  We are gathering in living rooms across the country, watching Take Back Your Power, and hatching plans for the next round of resistance.

Where is the CA Public Utilities Commission?

In bed with the utilities, laughing over a game of golf and a gin and tonic about how the ‘tin foil hat crazies’ have mostly gone away since the opt out was passed, leaving them free to continue to operate an invasive and unsafe mesh network.  At the end of the day, that’s what the ‘opt out’ has achieved: temporary, illusive, and limited relief from microwaves for those fortunate enough to be able to afford a house on a large parcel.   What’s worse, the ‘opt out’ has given license to smart metering firms to prey on unsuspecting communities in CA and elsewhere.  By taking some of the steam out of the movement for a moratorium on further installations, and a recall on unsafe ‘smart’ meters, the utilities were able to (at least temporarily) avert a much more costly and embarrassing backlash against the technology.

Such a backlash is again brewing as states like Ohio, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Virginia allow utilities to dictate a “my way or the highway” approach- either allow the ‘smart’ meter on your home or we will cut off your utilities.   As the problems highlighted in the film Take Back Your Power become more widely recognized, these are the seeds of mounting public backlash, electoral upheaval- even civil unrest.  Everyone has a fundamental and constitutional right to be safe in our homes.  Such a multi-pronged attack on our rights must be met with organized resistance.   History demonstrates- silence is deadly.

More than 500 people turned out to the smart meter ‘opt out’ hearings in Dec. 2012- virtually all opposed to the meters- and the fees associated with avoiding them.

It was less than a year ago when over 500 people turned out to a series of public workshops around California in December 2012- a week before Christmas. Stop Smart Meters! bussed people in from around the Bay Area to the hearing in Santa Rosa.  This was part of the CPUC’s second phase of the smart meter ‘opt out’ proceeding to determine the final costs and structure of California’s ‘opt out’ policies.  The scope of the proceeding includes the question of whether communities as a whole can opt out, and whether charging a fee violates sections of the CA Public Utilities Code and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Because it’s fairly obvious to everyone involved that the fees do in fact violate these laws, and that public opinion is overwhelmingly in favor of a free, community-wide opt out (not to mention a total recall) the only recourse the CPUC has to protect its utility family profits is the delay tactic.   And that is exactly what they have done, under the corrupted and twisted leadership of Michael Peevey.  Delay.   And delay.  And delay.  No doubt hoping noisy members of the public would lose interest, move away, or die.

Participants in the proceeding were told that a decision would be forthcoming in January 2013.  Ten months later, Administrative Law Judge Amy Yip-Kikugawa has yet to rule.  Rumors persist that- after hearing hundreds of impassioned pleas from the public- she would tend to rule allowing free, community-wide opt outs, but is being threatened with the loss of her position if she follows her moral compass.   The official reason is that she is sidetracked with the San Bruno explosion- another of PG&E’s heinous crimes.  Can’t allow democracy to actually influence policy- it might risk corporate utility profits (and the public sector retirement accounts that are tied to them).

The current ‘opt out’ fees being charged to customers in California are interim fees, and remain in dispute, the subject of an unresolved proceeding at the CPUC.  Yet most of the public believe these are approved, final fees.  You can’t blame people- the mainstream media has failed to accurately cover the issue, or conduct even a basic investigation into widespread wireless health damage.  If you don’t have hours a day to research the true state of affairs with regard to arcane smart metering policy, generally you are left in the dark.

What to Do?

Faced with the prospect of a corrupt CPUC dragging out the ‘opt out’ proceeding indefinitely, allowing the status quo to continue, with people being tortured in their homes and deprived of their lives, their liberty, not to mention any pursuit of happiness, what are we to do?