Nov. 21, 2012
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
Tuesday night, the Ojai City Council will consider extending its moratorium on the installation of Southern California Edison Smart Meters. Council passed the moratorium May 29 after hearing an outpouring of concerns from Ojai residents regarding privacy and questioning the safety of the new devices.
Tuesday night they will consider extending it for another year.
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), however, has deemed Ojai’s ban illegal. In a letter dated June 5, Frank Lindh of the CPUC advised the Ojai City Council, “Under well-settled principles of California law, the city of Ojai has no authority to issue a ‘moratorium’ on this commission-approved public utility infrastructure program. It is our opinion, therefore, that the city’s ordinance is unlawful and unenforceable.”
Despite this edict from the body that governs all California public utility companies — and despite the fact that Ojai has allocated no funds to enforce the ordinance if it’s adopted — Ojai city staff still finds value in the symbolic gesture.
“We want to stay on-record for the reasons we adopted the moratorium last year,” said city attorney Joseph Fletcher. “There are issues we want resolved which have not been resolved by the PUC yet. We want to reduce or abolish the opt-out fee. We want to know: What has been installed, and where? We want the community to be as informed as possible, and that has been the continual hang-up people have with Edison.”
U.S. President Barack Obama signed the Recovery Act into law in February 2009, allocating $4.5 billion to the Department of Energy “to modernize the electric grid, enhance security of U.S. energy infrastructure and ensure reliable electricity delivery to meet growing demand,” according the CPUC website.
In Southern California, this resulted in the CPUC — headed by former Edison president Michael Peevey — using approximately $1.6 billion taxpayer money to design a “smart grid” with the major electric utility companies. The plan was to replace analog electric meters — along with the meter readers — with wireless Smart Meters, which would track energy consumption during peak hours. In addition to the regular Smart Meters, “repeater meters” that collect and send data for entire neighborhoods are also being installed.
“We can’t apparently get information on data collection meters,” said Fletcher. He added that it is believed these specific meters operate at a higher frequency and send data more often than regular meters, and it is unclear at this time whether or not a resident could opt-out of having one of these installed, even if a resident consented to a regular Smart Meter.
Proponents of Smart Meters argue that the devices could result in a 365,000-ton-per-year reduction in greenhouse emissions for the state. During a presentation to Ojai City Council in October 2011, representatives from SCE promised all their meter readers would be re-positioned within the company, and proposed that Smart Meters would create “more of a two-way relationship” between utility companies and customers.
“It is really about empowering the customer,” said SCE senior manager Michael Schulte at that meeting.
Upon learning there would be no option for commercial accounts to keep their analog meter — and that there would be a $70 initial and $10 monthly fee for residential accounts who wished to opt-out — SCE customers in Ojai spoke out in opposition of Schulte’s sentiment.
“Corporations are trying to cram this down people’s throats without any community input,” said Ojai resident Sue Williamson recently.
“To maintain two separate systems costs money,” countered SCE spokesman David Song. “It was not punitive. We are all about customer choice.”
While the CPUC examines the possibility of entire communities to opt-out of Smart Meter installation, Ojai city manager Rob Clark has written to SCE requesting information such as the location of Smart Meter banks (clusters) within the city of Ojai, the frequency emitted by wireless SCE equipment and proof of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission certification for all equipment used.
“For reasons of customer privacy and security, SCE is unable to provide you with detailed maps indicating the location of every Smart Meter,” responded SCE director of public affairs Michael Montoya. “Installations of the Smart Meters in the Ojai area are 97 percent complete and the remaining installations are expected to be completed by the end of 2012. SCE appreciates the concerns of the City Council and residents who do not wish to have Smart Meters installed. SCE believes its opt-out program addresses these concerns.”
“We got a non-answer, I would say,” said Clark at the Nov. 13 City Council meeting.
“We have to really assess whether they have good, sound reasoning for that,” added assistant city attorney Scott Howard.
The City Council welcomes public comment on its possible Smart Meter moratorium extension. The meeting is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 401 S. Ventura St.
Visit www.sce.com and www.ci.ojai.ca.us for more information on Smart Meters in Ojai.
Nov. 21, 2012