Thursday, March 31, 2011

On PGE's Bogus Opt-out Option

The Berkeley Daily Planet

By Steve Martinot
Tuesday March 29, 2011
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PGE has proposed an opt-out option that is not one. On March 10, the PUC directed PGE to develop an alternative to Smartmeter installation, in response to the massive upheaval and objection against the Smartmeters that has emerged throughout California (over 35 local governments, including Berkeley, have banned or called for the banning of these Smartmeters, pending further study). PGE came up with a plan last Thursday (March 24). But in their plan, they have ignored what people have been calling for, that is, a non-installation that would leave in place the old analogue meter. Instead, PGE has proposed a modified form of Smartmeter installation. In place of an opt-out plan, it proposes a minor modification of the original plan. But as a minor modification (rather than a non-procedure), it will be associated with major charges to customers. And therein lies a serious element of extortion. 
Here's how it would work. There would be a fee schedule attached to the Smartmeter. Those who do not want a Smartmeter would have to pay a fee up front to have the Smartmeter's radio function deactivated, then submit to having a monthly fee added to their bills (of somewhere between $20 to $50), and finally pay an "exit fee" when and if they move out of the residence to have the Smartmeter's radio function reactivated. 
The primary complaint about these Smartmeters is that they are unhealthy, and there are hundreds of stories of ailments now on record, along with accumulating experimental evidence concerning this fact (see Cindy Sage's "Sage Report"). They also create domestic insecurity because they are hackable from outside, and constitute an invasion of privacy, by collectiing data about one's personal life and movement as represented in one's electricity usage. To that extent, the proposed fees for deactivation of the Smartmeter constitute a "protection racket." PGE is saying to people, "we plan to install something in your house that is possibly injurious to your health, to your domestic security, and to the sanctity of your privacy, and if you do not want us to do that, you will have to pay us money." That is an extortion scam, under the laws of any state in this union. 
PGE doesn't seem to know how to stop scamming the people of California. It has scammed us with Prop 16, with its claim to a mandate for the installation of Smartmeters, with its claim that gas pipeline records are missing, and now, with its proposal for a bogus Smartmeter opt-out option. 
Prop 16 was a scam insofar as it was presented as a democratizing regulation. PGE claimed that the proposition would give people a vote on whether to have public power rather than PGE. But we already had such a vote. What the proposition would have done was effectively take it away by requiring a two thirds vote on whether to replace PGE or not. In other words, it would have fairly assured PGE of monopoly control of our electricity. 
The Smartmeters are not mandatory according to federal law. The Energy Act of 2005, which initiated the installation of Smartmeters, only requires that they be made available to those customers who might want them. But PGE has said, up until this week, that they are mandatory, and must be put in place to complete the power grid they are building. Now they are willing to have people opt-out of the grid, but still must take the Smartmeter, albeit unactivated. If they are willing to live with unactivated Smartmeters, then they should also be willing to live with unreplaced analogue meters. 
In San Bruno, before the explosion, there were phone calls by people who smelled gas in the air. PGE did nothing, having put its money into trying to pass Prop 16. Now 8 people are dead, and PGE is complaining that it has no records of the pipelines, let alone the complaints or the gas leak reports. 
Finally, PGE has come out with this bogus opt-out plan. What the anti-Smartmeter movement has been demanding is that a Smartmeter not be installed at all if the customer does not want it. On top of the complaints that Smartmeter microwave emissions are unhealthy, invasive and hackable, what has enraged most people is PGE's autocratic attitude, its anti-democratic stance that everyone must take a Smartmeter and like it, regardless of the electro-smog that Smartmeters create for every urban environment. Deactivating the Smartmeter would obviate the health and hacking problems associated with them. But then, one would have to trust PGE's word on deactivation. And few people in the anti-Smartmeter movement would council one to trust a corporation as deadset on scamming as PGE. But at this juncture, whether people trust PGE or not has become a seconary issue, an academic point. What is primary is the "protection racket" character of PGE's bogus opt-out proposal. If racketeering was not their thing, they could just leave the analogue meters in place, at no extra charge. 
This is not, of course, their only example of felonious behavior. To the extent PGE refused to properly maintain its gas pipelines in San Bruno, or respond to residents' reports of gas leaks, as required by state law and regulations, it is guilty of negligent homicide with respect to the eight people who died in the explosion. 
The PUC has to pass on PGE's proposal, so we have some time to present opposition to it. But perhaps this is also the time for us to seriously consider shifting to public power, with local elected boards and an elected directorship that would represent and listen to the people with respect to the people's health, safety, and privacy. Neither PGE nor the PUC seem to be capable of doing these things.

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