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February 1st, 2012 – The California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) this day enacted a regulation that permits anyone in that state to opt-out of having a ‘smart’ electric meter on their home – “for any reason or no reason at all”.  Those who so decline can keep their analog meter or get back their analog meter if it has already been replaced. Today’s decision in California may be instructive in terms of options likely to be considered by our own Michigan Public Services Commission (MPSC).

This is, in one sense, a great victory for the anti ‘smart’ meter movement, but it is also a source of great dismay in that those who opt-out will be required to pay an initial fee of $75.00 plus an extra $10/month from then on.  These rates are supposed to be to compensate the utility for re-installing the analog meters they took out, and the extra costs of maintaining meter readers and maintaining dual billing systems.  The CPUC made it clear that these rates are only tentative and may be adjusted next year based on actual cost experience.

Many feel that charging people for exercising their Fourth Amendment and health rights is a form of extortion.  They point out that they have already been charged for the cost of implementing the smart meter system.  They believe they should be receiving a credit for those charges since they will not be sharing in the alleged benefits of that system.

A survey done by Pacific Gas & Electric indicated that if opting out were free, that between 40% and 60% of the population would opt out.  But with today’s fee structure it is estimated only 3% will opt out.

Today’s decision is a benefit to privacy but does little to alleviate the electromagnetic radiation exposure problem since, if only 3% can afford to opt-out, those who do opt out will still be deluged with electrical radiation from their neighbor’s meters and the mesh networks required to keep those operating.

Commissioner Peevy, Chairman of the CPUC, also made it clear in his written report that the analog meter option may also be only a temporary option.  They are committed to the idea that, with or without radio transmissions, electrical consumption must, in the longer run, be measured and stored in rather fine intervals – so that time of use pricing can be implemented.  If this is done, of course, privacy is out the window.

Peevy has indicated the Commission would like a solution in which there would be a different kind of smart meter that stores detailed usage information that could be downloaded to a meter reader’s hand held device.  But since this technology does not exist as yet, they are permitting analog meters – for now.