Pacific Gas and Electric Co. in San Francisco has released 45 reports, dating back to August 2006, that provide a detailed look inside the company's SmartMeter program. No other utility in California is reporting on its meter conversion program as often or in as much detail. The reports are located on PG&E's website.
PG&E has been providing these reports to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), as well as the Division of Ratepayer Advocates (an independent division of the Commission that advocates on behalf of customers), since the beginning of PG&E's SmartMeter program.
"We welcome the opportunity to share these reports publicly," said PG&E Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer Helen Burt. "Presented in detail, the information here reaffirms the facts we previously outlined for customers: that more than 99 percent of the SmartMeter devices we have installed are performing exactly as designed. This is a success rate that represents a significant advance over traditional meter technology, delivering more accurate bills to our customers along with more detailed information about their energy use."
Burt added, "The reports also show that PG&E has been frank, forthright and proactive with regulators and ratepayer advocates about our progress and challenges, and has made painstaking efforts to ensure this technology performs the way we and our customers expect it to."
Presented in the documents are data pertaining to early reviews, monitoring, testing and corrections identified and applied throughout the program, in most cases before the issues could affect our customers or their bills. Included in the information are "risk tables" showing that, as part of its implementation efforts, the company took steps to think through and address a wide range of potential issues that could arise. Also included are "mitigation tables" that show prudent steps the company took to identify, plan for and manage these potential issues.
In the reports, PG&E identified 137 unique risks and issues over a 4-year period. Of the 118 that required specific action plans for resolution, 107 have been resolved. Four of those issues impacted customer bills, and PG&E identified those last month as involving wireless communications, data storage, meter installation and meter accuracy.
PG&E's SmartMeter program is part of a statewide effort approved by the CPUC to upgrade California's energy infrastructure with automated metering technology. According to PG&E, this technology is the cornerstone of the smart grid that will modernize the electric system to be stronger, smarter and more efficient. The SmartMeter program is also essential to encouraging growth in renewable energy sources, laying the foundation for a low-carbon economy and empowering consumers to understand and reduce their energy use and monthly costs, said PG&E. The overall program budget and rollout timeline, set in 2005, remains on target. PG&E continues to seek additional program efficiencies to stay on, or improve, this track.
"We have confidence in this technology and in our program," said Burt. "At the same time, we recognize that some customers question whether they can have faith in our SmartMeter program, and frankly in PG&E. Restoring this trust is absolutely critical to us. We also know that 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."
"Today, we are renewing our commitment to our customers," Burt added. "We pledge to address customer service issues better than we have been, more quickly, and more aggressively."
Specifically, the company is now:
- Expanding its recently announced side-by-side meter testing program, doubling the number from 150 homes to 300 homes.
- Increasing the number of its customer Answer Centers, the latest of which is in Oakland, so customers can have one-on-one service to address their questions and concerns.
- Using a dedicated SmartMeter customer call center to ensure specialized and expedited handling of customers' questions and concerns regarding SmartMeter devices.
- Adding 165 additional customer service representatives to improve customer service and help customers with billing.
- Revamping customer communications around the installation of SmartMeter devices, including a series of communications timed to introduce customers to their newly installed meter and its benefits.
- Communicating with customers multiple times, and in multiple ways, about their new SmartMeter device and how it can empower them to control and reduce their energy use.
- Calling all customers who receive an estimated bill for two billing cycles, to explain the reasons for the bill estimate and facilitate payment arrangements.
PG&E also pledged to provide weekly updates on its SmartMeter program, including milestones or key developments as they happen, and to post on its website the results of side-by-side meter testing data.