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PG&E admits to misleading folks over extent of smart meter woes

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POSTED May 11, 2010 2:35 a.m.
PG&E has finally conceded that the smart meters they are installing aren’t as infallible as they have been contending.

The San Francisco-based utility has been responding to growing complaints about the smart meters by saying it was in reality just a handful of problems - if that - and there were other things to blame for sky high bills after the meters were installed. For those of us in the Central Valley, they simply dismissed criticism and said it was probably the result of customers using too much air conditioning thereby pushing us into the highest rate tier.

On Monday PG&E brass under mounting pressure from legislators, consumer advocacy groups, and the California Public Utilities Commission - conceded they had been less than candor about the extent of the problem and were guilty of poor response to customer complaints. PG&E vowed to work to rebuild trust in the $2 billion rollout of smart meters to 5.5 million households primarily in the Central Valley as well as the San Francisco Bay Area.

While it is admirable that PG&E’s brass are finally trying to be honest and transparent, it would be nice if they did the same thing with Proposition 16.

The measure on the June 8 ballot would require two thirds vote of the general electorate within a jurisdiction where a government entity plans to enter the retail power business. PG&E chief executive officer Peter Darbee has been quoted in court documents as essentially saying Proposition 16 is all about the company protecting their monopoly and not a heartfelt desire to protect voters.

PG&E smartly bills Proposition 16 as “The Taxpayers Right to Vote Act.”  Stockholders can hardly wait for Darbee & his cohorts in the executive suite at 555 Beale Street to extend such openness and inclusion to everyone who owns a piece of PG&E.

Perhaps Darbee should adopt a “Stockholders Right to Vote Act” that would require each and every stockholder the right to vote on things such as executive pay raises and multi-million dollar bonuses with the requirement that two thirds of stockholders must agree or else Darbee and buddies will receive no additional compensation.

It’s the right thing for Darbee to do. After all, if he wants to make sure those who government serves and charges for services have a say in major expenditures involving retail electricity it only stands to reason the same concern should be extended to PG&E stockholders.

Stockholders would like to know why their returns are so shabby when PG&E has an 11.45 percent guaranteed rate of return under California law. Could it be how PG&E’s brass are managing the company?

Now there is a concept - putting more money into the pockets of the people a public entity or a corporation serves in the form of ratepayers and stockholders.

That is exactly what South San Joaquin Irrigation District wants to do - put money back into the pockets of people they serve. When PG&E stock almost tanked a few years ago and the dividends per share were measly Darbee was busy giving himself and other top brass bonuses in excess of $12 million as their reward for almost driving PG&E into bankruptcy.

Meanwhile they keep putting the squeeze on rank-and-file PG&E employees who are the ones that provide the service.  While the smart meters are touted as a way to empower consumers by being able to track real time power consumption on their home computers, they also are eliminating a lot of PG&E workers.

You’d think that a company that has a dozen or so vice presidents would be looking for efficiency in the corporate suite as well as on the front line.

Instead they simply kept cutting back on construction crews and other employees with more plans on the way to improve customer service by closing down service centers such as the one in Manteca.

The $35 million question - based on the campaign PG&E is mounting for the June 8 election - is this: Is PG&E’s brass displaying the same amount of candor with Proposition 16 as they have been from the start with smart meters?

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