PG&E begins installing smart meters in San Luis Obispo County

Smart meters are moving into Paso Robles and should be in homes throughout San Luis Obispo County by the end of 2012, according to PG&E.

“We just really have started in San Luis Obispo County,” said Paul Moreno, a PG&E spokesman in Chico. He did not have a countywide number of upcoming meter installations, but a city-by-city breakdown shows at least 113,000.

The utility meters are part of a nationwide effort to upgrade the energy grid, which provides the means by which people can turn on their lights, computers, dishwashers and other appliances, and generally function in the 21st century.

Smart meters are meant to conserve energy. They are called “smart” because they track electricity and gas use and wirelessly transmit data to utilities. They give an hourly read on energy use — information that is available to the homeowner, who can adjust the use accordingly.

However, the automated system eliminates the need for human meter readers.

Putting meter readers out of a job in the current down economy is one of several controversies surrounding smart meter installation.

Moreno said 80 percent of the company’s meter readers have been moved to other jobs at PG&E. He added that the company has been phasing them out by using temporary employees.

The savings from not sending out readers and their trucks will be passed along to customers, Moreno said.

Meanwhile, there have been some problems with the use of smart meters.

Consumers in Bakersfield have complained that the smart meters inaccurately measured electricity use during a hot summer.

According to the Bakersfield Californian, most of the complaints stem from July 2009, when there were three times the normal number of days over 100 degrees.

PG&E customers saw their bills double and even triple, and they blamed the meters for the spiking. The complaints led the state Public Utilities Commission to order a study into whether the meters were billing customers properly.

Other complaints include the allegation that smart meters give off dangerous radio waves.

While the utility pooh-poohs such a claim, 2,000 people have complained of health issues arising from smart meters, and some communities have halted their installation, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.

Moreno said customers with questions should call the 24-hour “smart meter” hotline at 1-866-743-0263.