Having your power shut off because you fall behind on your bills can be a debilitating event, especially in winter. But Pacific Gas & Electric Company plans to ramp up the number of people who will have to go without heat and electricity in the next few years with the help of the utility’s controversial new smart meters. The Chron reports that the utility says the smart meters will allow it to turn off power to at least 85 percent of its customers who fall behind on their payments. In 2008, before PG&E began installing the meters, the utility shut off power to just 37 percent of eligible customers.
The smart meters, which have come under heavy fire by critics who say they easily malfunction, allow the utility to switch off power without having to send a technician out to a customer’s home to do it manually. The consumer’s group, TURN, calls PG&E’s plan to use the smart meters as a means to shut off people’s power “our worst fears being realized.” PG&E had said that it needed the smart meters for more effective use of renewable energy.
But there’s evidence that the smart meters are already having a serious impact on Northern Californians as the number of people who have fallen behind on their utility bills has skyrocketed during the recession. PG&E shut off service to 298,020 of its customers from September 2008 through August 2009 — a 40 percent increase over the previous twelve months.