PG&E’s Opt Out Fees Mired in Dispute and Procedural Flaws

Happy May Day everyone.  Get away from your computer and get out in the streets- it’s a beautiful day, at least in Northern California!  Revolutionary spirit (and tear gas) is in the air.  Apart from a historical day to celebrate and defend workers rights, May 1st also happens to be the “deadline” for signing up for PG&E’s opt out program.  Yet it’s not really a deadline.  You can opt in or out at any time according to PG&E.  And lacking justification for charging the fees or forcing a smart meter, our domineering monopoly utility is left with empty threats, legal ambiguities, and cheap intimidation tactics to force their unwanted meters.

Let’s take a look at where this issue stands as of today:

PG&E’s legal ability to charge $75 up front and $10/ month for keeping your old analog meter, or having your smart meter replaced with an analog, is under a cloud of uncertainty today after Marin County attorneys filed a motion at the CA Public Utilities Commission (pdf) to halt any further deployment of smart meters and demanded a moratorium on the collection of opt out fees, citing the mishandling of Edward Hasbrouck’s protest.

Hasbrouck- an SF activist and author- filed a protest against PG&E’s advice letter- containing the opt out policy and the provision that those who did not respond to certified mail requests- would be ‘deemed to have elected’ to pay more for the analog meter.  As it turns out, that crucial addition was suggested by CPUC staffer Marzia Zafar who urged PG&E to include it in an e-mail dated Feb. 13th.

Marin’s motion states:

“Until further disposition of this suspension by the Commission and appropriate notice to the parties in this proceeding and the public generally, and subject to any subsequent requests for review thereof, the rates, terms and conditions contained in this Advice Letter are not in effect. These terms and conditions of service include not only the interim rates set forth in the Decision, but also PG&E’s proposed tariff provisions defining the procedures set forth in OP 2 (a) and (b) of the Decision. If, for example, a Smart Meter is installed while there is no effective tariff provision governing the service provided, legal uncertainty — at a minimum — results regarding what, if any, rates would apply and what right, if any, PG&E had to install the meter if the customer did not affirmatively agree.”

Read the full post here: http://hasbrouck.org/blog/archives/002006.html

The CPUC initially stated on April 20th that PG&E’s opt out fee program advice letter was suspended.  Then they retracted that, listing the advice letter on their website as “no action.”  Then, when utility customers started citing the published status of the advice letter to refuse the fees, yesterday the CPUC took the extraordinary step of removing the listing of the advice letter altogether!

So in other words, the official sanction that PG&E is leaning on to charge hundreds in millions of fees to millions of Californians retaining their analog meter- is simply not in place.   It’s in the throes of legal dispute.  At the very least there is a necessary procedural delay to the fees, yet the CPUC- a public agency we fund through our tax dollars- refuses to admit that they screwed up, mishandled a timely and relevant protest against an ill-conceived punitive charging plan, and do what needs to be done- officially put a hold on the fees.

Like they did in Vermont, at the very least California needs a one year moratorium on any fees, while unresolved issues are pending.  CA regulators are on the right track further investigating the PG&E spying scandal.  Now it’s time for them to wise up to PG&E’s violations of the state utility code in charging unjustified and unsubstantiated punitive smart meter opt out fees.  They just don’t seem to be able to wrap their heads around this fact- we never opted IN!

Andrew Kotch at the CPUC News and Information Office had this to say: “The opt-out program and its fees have never been suspended.  The program continues as approved by the CPUC in February: http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/PUBLISHED/NEWS_RELEASE/158621.htm” 

Funnily enough that’s not what your legal division has been saying!

As a California utility customer in PG&E territory, you would be entirely justified in refusing to participate in this half-baked policy or pay the punitive fees.  Or write “paid under duress” on your check.  Report any unauthorized installations or illegal power disconnections to us immediately at info@stopsmartmeters.org

If you are upset about PG&E’s continuing abuses, come and PROTEST PG&E at their Annual Shareholder Meeting on Monday May 14th 9:30am at 77 Beale St. (Financial District) San Francisco.  Details forthcoming.

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