Laughter, jeers: Frustrated PG&E customers pack SmartMeter hearing

Laughter, jeers: Frustrated PG&E customers pack SmartMeter hearing
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- June Hahn received her Pacific Gas and Electric Co. bill three months after the company installed a SmartMeter in her home.

 Customer June Hahn talks about her SmartMeter experiences.

"My bill was $2,281, and we were gone three weeks," said Hahn, who said she's continued to see a 400 percent increase in her energy bill ever since.

Marisa Banks told a similar story. Her mother went on vacation in July, but, she said, "In that month her bill was $873."

Other PG&E customers told of their frustrating experiences in trying to get answers from the utility company.

"They said that the SmartMeters don't make a mistake. They're not designed to do that," said Hahn to a laughing audience of unhappy customers.

 Senator Dean Florez speaks at Monday night's hearing.

State Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez, D-Shafter, called the special hearing Monday night at the Kern County administration building to hear concerns from the public and to question PG&E on two significant rate increases since the installation of SmartMeters.

PG&E touted the new equipment as money-saving devices for the public. The meters are supposed to give consumers real-time information on energy usage, but Florez said the technology to allow the sort of communication needed to achieve that will not be in place for years.

PG&E representatives tried to do as much damage control as they could at the hearing.

"The most important thing to us from our customers is that they trust us," said Felicia Lokey of PG&E before her comments were drowned out by a chorus of boos and jeers from a skeptical public.

 Officials with PG&E speak at the special hearing.

The giant monopoly was on the defensive, defending its SmartMeter program.

"We have found no relationship between the implementation of the SmartMeter and the increases in customer bills," said Bill Devereaux, PG&E's senior director for the SmartMeter program.

That comment, as well, was greeted by a round of boos and disbelief from a standing-room only crowd.

PG&E contends energy bills are high because of "an extremely hot summer" and two rate increases, one in October of last year and another in March.

Florez pointed out it was PG&E that requested and got both rate increases.

Florez asked if the utility was willing to have an independent firm examine its SmartMeter program. Devereaux said he was open to that suggestion.