How to Resist the Fees (and Keep the Lights On)

We’ve been hearing a ton of reports from around California of people refusing to pay the smart meter extortion fees.  If you believe these fees are illegal, unfair, and discriminatory and are refusing to pay something for nothing- you are not alone!

Many families who are paying their full bill on time, but refusing to pay the extortion fees have been receiving their “15 day shut off notices” from PG&E.  Some people have caved and coughed up the fee, while others- like Tom DeMarchi of Willits– have dug their heels in, risking power cuts or whatever comes their way.

Whatever PG&E threatens, the reality is that (as far as we are aware) no one who has simply refused to pay their “opt out” fees has had their power cut.  A week after we covered Tom’s stand for justice, and a week after he was told his power would be cut off, his electricity remains on.

It appears that PG&E has strategically been adding the opt out fee to people’s bills at different times over the past several months, possibly to avoid a single wave of public outrage.  I guess that’s called “time-averaging the resistance.”  Nevertheless it appears PG&E has little appetite for a re-run of last year, when they disconnected power to more than a dozen families for “tampering” while they ended up just looking like the Grinch, cutting power to people who they had sickened with their stupid meters right before Christmas in the name of “safety.”  (The families were quickly re-connected.)

Our advice- as always- is to sit tight, refuse to allow installers access to your property, and refuse to pay any extortion fees.  Send the utility a letter with the words “I do not consent.”  If the utility threatens disconnection or fines, take the issue up with the CPUC Consumer Affairs Branch (see below) which will buy you some time and at least inform the regulator about the extent of opposition to the smart meter program in general and the fees in particular.  There are very specific circumstances in which a utility can legally disconnect your power.  We do not believe that refusal to pay the proposed “opt out fee” is one of them.

The CPUC Division of Ratepayer Advocates Recommends:

If you are refusing “opt out” fees, contact Consumers Affairs Branch- CAB (Call first, follow up with a formal complaint) This will start the clock running for them NOT to shut off your power while the compliant is in resolution process.

CA Consumer Affairs Branch 1-800-649-7570

Talking points for refusing Smart Meter fees: The fees were never legally evaluated and are therefore arbitrary and unreasonable, which is a violation of Public utilities Code 451. Smart Meters emit RF radiation, and you need to avoid RF for medical reasons, so to pay to avoid them is a violation of PUC code 453(b)

From “The Utility Reform Network”
Rules Governing Utility Shut-Offs

If you fail to make payments and are at risk of shut-off, keep in mind:

  • Your power cannot be shut off for nonpayment on Saturdays, Sundays, legal holidays other days when the utility’s public offices are closed.
  • Medical baseline or life support customers will not be disconnected without an in-person visit from a utility representative.
  • You must be notified before your power is shut-off. PG&E and SDG&E customers are entitled to a 15-day notice of termination followed by a 48-hour notice. SCE customers must receive a 15-day notice followed by a 5 day notice. You should also receive an explanation for the proposed shut-off and the options you have to prevent termination, such as payment arrangements and appeals to your utility or the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

Avoiding A Shut Off During a Billing Dispute

Failure to follow the proper procedures while disputing a bill can result in a shut-off. If you think your bill is incorrect you should first try to negotiate with the utility by requesting to speak with a manager or supervisor. If that fails, you should file a complaint with the CPUC immediately. If you file a complaint within 5 days of receiving the disputed bill, your power cannot be shut off until the CPUC has issued a decision and the case has been closed. (Even if more than 5 days have passed, however, appealing to your utility and/or the CPUC in an attempt to work something out may buy you some time and is always worth a try).

Don’t wait for a shut off notice to contact the CPUC if you want to dispute your bill. Protect yourself by notifying your utility as soon as possible of your intent to dispute your bill and your reasons for doing so. You should also make sure that any bills you receive after the disputed one are paid in full (minus any disputed amount) and on time.

This entry was posted in California, Citizen rebellion, CPUC, Democracy, neighborhood organizing, PG&E. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to How to Resist the Fees (and Keep the Lights On)

  1. Ron says:

    Spoke with Tom DeMarchi by telephone recently. He confirmed still no shut-off. He received the 48-hour notice on October 12, so it’s been well over 2 weeks now.

    Under “Talking Points for Refusing Smart Meter Fees,” CPUC Code Section 745 (d) (1) also merits being raised, especially since it is broader in scope than the medical disqualifier of Section 453 (b). It reads:
    “Residential customers have the option to not receive service pursuant to time-variant pricing and incur no additional charges as a result of the exercise of that option. Prohibited charges include, but are not limited to, administrative fees for switching away from time-variant pricing, . . .”

    In correspondence last May with Fred Harris, Staff Counsel for the PUC, he conceded the following to the question of how the CPUC’s approval of opt-out fees avoids violating Section 745 (d) (1):

    “I have not located a Commission decision that specifically
    references California Public Utilities Code Section 745(d)(1) in the
    context of a Smart Meter decision. I assume that one or more of the
    parties in the proceeding . . .may raise California Public Utilities Code Section 745(d)(1) as one legal argument against a separate opt-out fee.”
    Could the foregoing be construed as legal advice?

    Mr. Harris has lately become unresponsive to further inquiry.

    • Ron says:

      Marianne called today from the CPUC, and left the following message:

      “My name is Marianne. I’m with the California Public Utilities Commission. We have received your complaint regarding charges for Smart Meter Opt Out. The form that was signed that was received by PG&E lists the opt-out fees which are a requirement. There’s only 2 stages of fees. If you opt out, you pay a $75 flat fee plus $10 a month, which is a requirement. The other is, you have a Smart Meter installed, which means you pay no fees. There’s no other option. If you don’t pay us before 11-2, you will be disconnected, and this has been approved by the California Public Utilities Commission. Thank you.”

      Return calls to Marianne before 5:00 went unanswered, with no message machine picking up the calls. Among other problems, I wanted to discuss with “her” the following discrepancies, double standards, and deceptions:

      1. When I first contacted the CPUC by telephone on Monday October 29 to lodge a complaint, the computer message there requested a complaint be filed in writing via their website, to which I complied. But their response is not in writing. No email has been received.

      2. Rogue outlaws. The response totally ignores the substance of my complaint, namely CPUC’s duty-bound enforcement of CPUC Code Section 745 (d) (1)–see text in prior comment.

      3. The “form that was signed . . ” What form, signed by who? I did receive an unsigned letter from Helen Burt, Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer for PG$E, outlining two nasty options concerning Smeters. It was accompanied by a form confirming my understanding of the two nasty options, with a conspicuous place for me to sign. The form commenced with some blatantly bogus hype about how “we fully support individual choice when it comes to the meter at your home.” But I still have that unsigned form, which I never returned. Instead, I replied directly to Helen Burt with a certified letter clarifying that I had never opted in, thus making it impossible to opt out–and that I furthermore refused to pay any opt-out fees.
      So, I would like Marianne to produce the signed form to which she refers. If she can’t or won’t, she has either been misinformed or is committing fraud. However, since Marianne has no last name, she might just be a computer, in which case she can’t be held responsible, right?

      4. “If you don’t pay us . . .” Whoa, who’s raking the money here, CPUC or PG&E? I don’t recall receiving any bills from the CPUC. Or has there been a corporate merger they didn’t tell us about, now they’re one and the same?

      Let’s see now: woodstove for heat & cooking, propane for gas, generator for juice. All this in the same week as national hoopla?!
      By the way, Ronny Rat, those Outback Radian GS8048 Inverters with tax come close to 5K, before installation. There are definitely more economical ways to go solar.

      • Ron says:

        Marianne left no call-back number, and when I tried the number on her caller id this morning, it just rang & rang with no answer. Finally I reached her through the Consumer Affairs Branch of the CPUC. The first question I had for her was her last name? “Camacho”

        The second question was about that form. I wanted to know whose signature was on it? She said mine. I asked for a copy. She didn’t have it yet, they (PG$E) had told her they have it and were sending it to her.

        Second question: Can I get your whole response to my complaint in writing, like the CPUC had asked that I submit it? She said it would be forthcoming as soon as she received that signed form from PG$E. A real cliff-hanger here, folks.

        Third question: Did her telephone threat constitute a 48-hour notice of termination? She insisted that no such notice was required, written or unwritten.

        Fourth question: Why did you fail to address the substance of my complaint? Her bull-headed answer: “You only have two choices.”
        When I then tried to cite CPUC Code Section 745 (d) (1) that specifies no opt-out fees to her, she suddenly interrupted with “Have a good day”, followed by a click as she hung up before I got to ask her who to send the money to?

        What is the next level of appeal?

        • Ron says:

          Following CPUC Marianne hanging up on me earlier this afternoon (no profanity was uttered), I got a message at 4:10 today from PG$E:

          “Hi, this is Brian Alexander. I’m with PG&E. Per request from Marianne at the Public Utilities Commission. She asked me to contact you to advise you that your service will NOT be shutoff tomorrow. And you are NOT in any sort of current collection process. If you have any questions with this, you can call me at 415-973-8052.”

          I tried calling back to have him put it in writing, but couldn’t reach him.

          I recall months ago when Helen Burt sent out the certified letters outlining our “choices” and requesting our signature on their bogus form. That’s when I smelled something legally foul and fishy–I mean, when was the last time you received a certified letter from your utility asking for anything besides money? Underlying the charade of bona fide choices was a ploy to gain our consent to one of only two limited nasty choices by way of our signatures on that form.

          I now believe the crux of this issue is the legal consent formally requested by PG&E. No consent has ever been given by me for either choice of Smart Meters or Opt-Out fees.

      • Ronny Rat says:

        Right Ron,

        However, cost at this time is of NO significance as I’m primarily
        making an ABSOLUTE statement to the GREEDY utility that the
        technology is mainstay & we DO have BETTER choices than to
        have to KISS their phuckin a**es.

  2. Ronny Rat says:

    Hey PG&E … if it’s any consequence to you, we do have other alternatives:
    I know you are constantly checking us out here & that you are aware of this
    company. You push to far & we begin looking in ‘other’ directions for our own
    independent energy needs. I’m one of those on your list refusing your ‘extortion’
    fees & if you cut MY power I’ll tell you what I’LL do … I’ll, first, temporarily
    ‘borrow’ power from one of my neighbors, buy & install an outback system (I
    know someone who has had one for several years & OFF the grid & trouble-
    free), then I will join the ranks of those similar to me who would like to see true
    justice done in compensation for ALL the unnecessary PAIN you have been
    putting ‘we, the people’ through. Need I say more?

  3. Jim says:

    Storm power outages: Power company guy talks to TV news over the phone and says they are having problems figuring out where the problems are. They are sending up a helicopter to try to find the problems.


    That was their sales pitch, wasn’t it?

    Couldn’t spend a LOT LESS on some sensors that sit on some power poles here and there to tell them where the problems are?

    NO!!! We have to screw the people over!

  4. Redi Kilowatt says:

    Jim, how right you are !
    That advertised feature about the SmartMeters detecting power outages was just another one of many false claims made by the utility corporations.
    The upgrading of the electrical power grids has not yet started in PG&E territory, but one of the main components is to add sensors at the transformers or in intervals along the distribution lines to accurately depict where problems are.
    It’s true, the SmartMeters are useless for that function. The best thing to do is call PG&E and report an outage now. We had an outage up here that affected 20 meters, some of them are SmartMeters. When I called to report an outage, the operator told me that they were not aware of any outage in my area, so they logged a service call.
    Many of the other features advertised about the SmartMeters are false advertising too. Like the tricky wording about the Home Area Networks that don’t exist, and the Smart Thermostat program that does not use the SmartMeters at all, it uses a VHF radio frequency only as a pilot program in some areas, and has nothing at all to do with any SmartMeters. And, I have seen reference to the Smart Thermostat program as part of the HAN program, saying that SmartMeters actually monitor and control “devices”. What a crock of dung !

  5. Homer says:

    I would like to add the following for those who are refusing to pay the opt out fees. Filing a complaint with the cpuc produces a propaganda screed letter that is sent out the next day. The letter has your complaint number on it, but says nothing else about your complaint. This is the cpuc’s way of dismissing, and formally closing your complaint without informing you of that fact. Because of this it buys you no time in terms of shut off. But it is well know, and was actually confirmed by an employee of the cpuc in a phone conversation, that no one in CA has had their power shut off for non payment of opt out fees. Yet.
    If you have the time and energy, I would suggest doing what Ron is doing and demand that they respond to your specific complaint in writing. According to the cpuc employee we talked to the cpuc is overwhelmed with complaints. Keep ’em coming. Something has to give here, and it ain’t going to be us. What we need is a legal champion to take the cpuc and piggy to task on this.

    • Ron says:

      Have filed 2 complaints with the CPUC within the last week, and have received nothing back in writing, not even a propaganda screed letter. No complaint numbers, nothing. My, but they must be getting overwhelmed. The second complaint complained of their total failure to respond to my first complaint in writing, apart from an abysmal telephone message they left me (see above).

      They did, however, hand off their obligatory response back to PG$E. I was finally able to wrangle the following email from Brian Alexander in their Customer Relations Department: “The electric service to your address will not be shut-off tomorrow, 11/02/12, and you are not currently in the collection process.”

      Here’ what Edward Hasbrouck surmised about my small victory:
      “I suspect that PG&E and/or the CPUC backed down in this case because without an explicit opt-out, their only conceivable basis for a fee is the ‘deemed to have opted out’ clause in the Advice Letter which is the focus of my protest, and they know that they would be on shaky ground in trying to argue that it is in effect while my protest is pending.”

      I think Edward is onto piggy’s sneaky Pete–“deemed to have opted out”. The Advice Letter referred to is #3278-G/4006-E, which PG$E submitted to the CPUC in order to “authorize” Opt-Out fees.

  6. Homer says:

    The long term solution to this problem is to take our public utilities away from piggy.
    PG$E used to be an outstanding private company. But they went over to the dark side in the last couple of greed crazed decades. Piggy’s current leadership is pathetic, demented, and unfit to run a hotdog cart, let alone a public utility. Their goals of personal aggrandizement, runaway greed and extortion are incompatible with the needs of every person in California. If any one has the juice to spearhead such an initiative, piggy’s smart meter debacle provides an outstanding vulnerability to build such a campaign on. Such a campaign would also provide a bully pulpit for the extreme dangers of emf radiation in general. If even a quarter of the population of CA became aware that smart meters will give them, their families and pets cancer in only 5 years, nobody would be able to stop the momentum of such an initiative.

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