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California has a long history of rebellious behavior, dating back to the Bear Flag Rebellion that sought to make the then-Mexican territory into an independent nation. Settling for statehood in the United States more than a century ago apparently didn’t dampen the spirit of dissension.
The latest controversy pits the state’s long-standing tradition of defiance with another state characteristic as technological trend-setter. Residents in several California communities have taken great exception to the nondiscretionary installation of so-called smart meters, one of the fundamentals of the similarly named smart grid. The devices allow for a more detailed reading of customer’s electricity usage, which makes it possible for them to cut back during times of peak demand and consequently avoid higher rates.
It sounds simple enough, and one would think that Californians, who embrace new technology and saving the environment, would be eager to accept the new devices. Not so. In the Bay Area and the Central Valley, residents have protested, city and county governments have acted and state officials are looking into the complaints.
Santa Cruz County and the city and county of San Francisco have asked the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to place a moratorium on the installation of the meters. Marin County is considering a similar stance. The small Marin town of Fairfax went a step further and voted to ban the meters. Residents of Bakersfield have filed a class action lawsuit. The CPUC is holding hearings to solicit comments on the meters as it considers the issue. A state legislator has also asked the California Council on Science and Technology to evaluate the health effects.
At issue are many things. Some residents complain about spikes in their bills after the meters were installed. Others object to the perceived invasion of privacy. Many are concerned with the possibility that the meters emit harmful radiation.
Most of the controversy seems to revolve around the installation of smart meters by Pacific Gas and Electric Co., although millions of meters have been installed or authorized for installment by several other large utilities in the state. Like so many trends, the eyes of utilities, smart technology proponents and utility users around the country will be watching to see how this California controversy unfolds.