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PG&E admits to flaws in some smart meters

On orders from California regulators, the utility reports that thousands of meters have suffered technical glitches, leading to inaccurate bills.

California utility Pacific Gas & Electric has released a report acknowledging that thousands of its smart meters have had technical problems and that its customer service has been insufficient.

The company has been the source of ire by customers in California who have complained that their utility bills went up after the two-way digital meters were installed. More than 5 million meters have been installed since 2007.


Prompted by customer complaints over billing accuracy, California regulators ordered PG&E to provide details of its smart-meter program.

On Monday, the utility released four years' worth of project management reports (PDF) and the results of a review that identified "issues" related to wireless communication, data storage, meter installation, and accuracy.

"We've let some of our customers down with the quality of customer service they received. While 99 percent of our SmartMeter devices are installed and working properly, we recognize that even having less than 1 percent of meters with issues is still 50,000 customers, and that's too many," Helen Burt, PG&E senior vice president and chief customer officer, said in a statement.

Burt noted that the 99 percent billing accuracy is better than traditional meters and that smart meters provide more details.

At a press conference Monday, company executives said the number of problems related to inaccurate bills could be as high as 23,000, according to a report in the San Jose Mercury News.

In response to the problems, PG&E will ramp up it customer service programs, including dedicating a call center to smart meters. It will also communicate more with customers who receive a smart meter and offer information on how it can help them control energy usage, the company said.

PG&E's travails with its smart-meter program, which is about halfway through to its 10 million meter goal by 2012, are being felt throughout the utility industry.

There is concern that smart meters are being installed without giving consumers tools to take advantage of the technology or with little information about the capabilities.

In some cases, consumers can get more detailed information through a Web portal and turn off appliances with a dedicated in-home display. But in many cases, utilities are installing meters to improve automated usage reporting without providing tools to end users.