The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors said Tuesday that PG&E should stop installing wireless SmartMeters until questions about the technology’s safety, cost-effectiveness and alleged threat to privacy have been answered.
The board agreed to send a letter calling for the delay to the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates utilities.
Local governments have no power to stop the installations, although some have declared unenforceable “moratoriums.”
The vote was 4-0 with Frank Mecham absent. Mecham, however, sent a letter supporting the board action.
Supervisor Jim Patterson, who wrote the board’s letter, asked that a phrase that called PG&E “woefully inadequate” in its efforts to educate its customers be removed.
He said he was impressed by the utility’s outreach attempts, which will include at least a half dozen community forums.
In raising concerns, the board became the sixth among the 58 county governments in California to question SmartMeters. More than 20 of the state’s 649 incorporated cities, including Morro Bay and Seaside in Monterey County, also have formally questioned the meters.
PG&E has installed 40,000 SmartMeters in San Luis Obispo County and expects to have the county covered by the end of 2012. Statewide, some 7.7 million have been installed out of 10 million planned by PG&E.
Other utilities also are installing them. Southern California Edison, for example, plans to have 6,000 SmartMeters in place by the end of 2012.
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.
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 then adjust usage in a way that saves energy.
However, there has been a steady thrumming of concern from people on several grounds. Some question the electromagnetic emissions given off by the devices as being harmful to health. Others, who have had the meters installed, say their costs have risen.
Some worry that their privacy might be compromised by the new technology.
Those concerns were in full view during the Tuesday meeting, with more than two dozen speakers taking a position, most of them on the side of holding off on the installations.
Judy Vick, the former county supervisory candidate who has been spearheading the local opposition to SmartMeters, said the savings the utility is touting will come about because meter readers will lose their jobs.
PG&E has said previously that it found new jobs for 80 percent of its meter readers, but it has consistently declined requests from The Tribune for financial details and specific numbers.
Other speakers questioned the dangers of electromagnetic waves, despite PG&E’s insistence that there are none.
Several speakers noted that DDT, cigarettes, Thalidomide and other substances once were declared safe by experts.
Some who have SmartMeters complained of various physical ailments attributable to the technology, while others who are using the new meters said they had no problems with them.
Noting the conflicting testimony and studies, Supervisor Bruce Gibson told PG&E it has a communication problem with its customers. He said he does not believe the utility has made the case about the benefits of the new technology. He said the utility needs to “build some trust.”
Those who fear SmartMeters are tying their requests for delay to a bill by Marin County Assemblyman Jared Huffman. Assembly Bill 37 would allow customers to opt out of SmartMeters.
It also would force the utility to disclose information about them to customers, including the timing, magnitude, frequency and duration of emissions.
PG&E representatives Tuesday offered to look into individual complaints lodged by speakers and gave a toll-free number for people with concerns to call: 1-866-743-0263.