Tuesday, 10 December 2013

PG&E reverses "SmartMeter" opt-out charge after complaint to CPUC

More than a year ago, I applied to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for rehearing of the CPUC's decision, over my objections, to approve surcharges for customers of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. who don't allow PG&E to install transceivers and antennae for PG&E's wireless mesh data network, without payment to the property owner, on or in their homes -- regardless of whether PG&E has acquired any siting rights for that equipment, or whether the utility customer (rather than the owner of the property) controls those siting rights and is entitled to grant an easement for them to PG&E.

My petition for rehearing remains pending with the CPUC, with no visible indication that it is even being considered. There's no statutory deadline for the CPUC to act on my petition.

I heard nothing (other than normal bills) from PG&E for almost a year after filing my petition for rehearing with the CPUC. But in October of 2013, I got a bill from PG&E that suddenly listed me as "enrolled" in the "SmartMeter Opt-OUT program", and assessed a $75 initial opt-out fee.

I have never opted in to such a program, but neither have I opted out. The (analog) gas and electric meters for the house where I live are located inside the building, as is typical of San Francisco row houses. So far as I know, PG&E has never tried to break in to the house to install a "SmartMeter".

I was able to get this charge reversed by complaining to the CPUC. Here's how:

Being a consumer advocate, I actually read my bills before I pay them. I noticed the erroneous charge, and called PG&E to dispute it. The people I talked to on the phone at PG&E admitted they had no record that I had ever "indicated that did not want a SmartMeter at my location" (the language in their tariff), but they refused to remove the erroneous "opt-out" charge from my bill. I declined to discuss whether I wanted a SmartMeter, and firmly but politely insisted on confining the discussion solely to whether the disputed line item on the bill had or had not been imposed in accordance with PG&E's tariff.

Next, I complained to the CPUC, using its billing dispute form and enclosing a check for the disputed amount, payable to the CPUC, for it to hold in escrow while investigating.

The CPUC returned my check, uncashed, with a form letter suggesting (wrongly) that the CPUC has no jurisdiction over billing disputes if the disputed charge is the SmartMeter "opt-out" fee.

When I got this letter from the CPUC, I called the CPUC. and explained to the person who had sent me the form letter that I was not, through this complaint, disputing the validity of PG&E's tariff or the SmartMeter opt-out fee in general. (I am disputing that, but through my application for rehearing, which is a separate CPUC proceeding.) This compliant to the CPUC was simply and solely a billing dispute regarding a charge which was not, under PG&E's tariff, applicable to my account.

Once I got my complaint shifted in the minds of the CPUC employee handling the case from the "SmarftMeter dispute" pigeonhole to the "billing dispute" pigeonhole, she told me she would check again with PG&E. Shortly afterward, she called back to say that PG&E had agreed to reverse the disputed charge.

However, my next PG&E bill still included the (now "past due") initial $75 opt-out charge, as well as an additional $10 monthly opt-out fee. I called PG&E, and was told that I would see a credit for both these amounts on my next bill. I asked for written confirmation that the charged would be removed and not reinstated, which the the person on the phone agreed to provide.

Nothing came in the mail until after several follow-up phone calls, but eventually I got a letter from PG&E confirming that my account "was removed from the SmartMeter Opt-Out program. Also, the initial set up charge of $75 and the subsequent monthly fee of $10 was removed... The next bill cycle starting in December will not have any charges related to the SmartMeter Opt-out program."

I have now received my next PG&E bill, showing an $85 credit and no longer listing my account as enrolled in the "SmartMeter opt-out program".

Link | Posted by Edward on Tuesday, 10 December 2013, 20:44 ( 8:44 PM) | TrackBack (0)
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