New e-mails brought to light between Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) reveal the extent of corruption and backroom dealing that have characterized the state’s smart meter program. E-mails reveal that former CPUC President Michael Peevey was aware of health problems caused by smart meters early on in the program. Commissioners and staff experienced overcharging and electronic interference issues with smart meters on their homes. Meanwhile, utilities schemed with regulators behind the scenes to raise opt-out fees to force people in poverty to stick with the unpopular meters and prop up the failing multi-billion dollar smart grid program in California.
Former CPUC President Michael Peevey, who retired in December and is currently the subject of a criminal probe by the U.S. Attorney and State Attorney General who are investigating allegations of bribery and corruption, assured the public that the meters were accurate, were no fire hazard, and no threat to health. A different picture has emerged from initial research into more than 65,000 e-mails and memos between CPUC and PG&E. Peevey wrote to PG&E in September of 2010 (emphasis ours):
“The press coverage was very good and helps PG&E big time, overall, as well as other companies, etc. One thought for the company: If it were my decision I would let anyone who wants to keep their old meter keep it, if they claim they suffer from EMF and/or related electronic-related illnesses… I would institute such a policy quietly and solely on an individual basis. There really are people who feel pain, etc., related to EMF,etc., and rather than have them become hysterical, etc., I would quietly leave them alone. Kick it around. And, it sounds like the company may already have taken this step, based on a couple of the comments at yesterday’s public hearing.”
Peevey says to PG&E, “if it were my decision.” As Sandi Maurer of the EMF Safety Network has pointed out, being the Commissioner in charge of the smart meter opt out proceeding, technically it was his decision. But that does not appear to be where the true power lies according to this e-mail exchange. Apparently the “Company” calls the shots and Commissioners obey. The “other companies” Peevey refers to include GE, Landis & Gyr, Silver Spring Networks, Wellington Energy, Verizon, Edelman and others.
In another e-mail from 2010, Peevey’s Chief of Staff Carol Brown writes to PG&E:
“…so far I have done OK just listening to the sad tales of EMF poisoning – and telling them thank you for bringing it to our attention – and then not offering them any solution!!! I just wanted to have a resource in case!”
Brian Cherry, VP of Regulatory Relations at PG&E replies:
“Prozac might be a solution!”
Suggesting that people take pharmaceuticals to treat health problems caused by the company’s meters is unspeakably arrogant, dangerous, and corrupt. The only thing that has consistently helped people suffering health effects from EMF has been the removal of smart meters and other nearby wireless transmitters. And the utilities knew it. But to officially have smart meters removed, the CPUC under Peevey, required Californians to pay an upfront fee and monthly charge starting in May 2012.
In public, the utilities and CPUC have justified the $75 initially and $10/ month fees for analog meters (to have the same thing that customers have always had) by arguing that individuals should pay for the costs they create. In private however, a different story emerges. In e-mails between California utilities and Marzia Zafar, CPUC’s current Director of Policy and Planning, a 15 year utility industry employee including 4 years as a So Cal Gas lobbyist who was involved in the Bill Devereaux Spy Scandal, Zafar tells her utility colleagues:
“I think if there is not an initial fee your estimate of 2% opt out goes out the door and you’ll have more like 20% or 50% opt out which will then make the whole project that we spent over $7 billion on a complete and total waste.”
Zafar is saying if they eliminate the initial opt out charge for analog meters, up to half of California’s electric customers may refuse smart meters, given all the publicity around safety and inaccuracy problems, and that needs to be avoided at all costs – by ensuring fees remain unaffordable. This e-mail demonstrates clearly that the opt out fee is intended not to “cover costs” but to suppress choice, prop up a failing and dangerous smart grid and penalize people for disobeying a forced, corporate and undemocratic deployment.
Making it more difficult for those in poverty to opt out seemed to be a particular priority for Southern California Edison, Peevey’s former employer. Many low-income customers live in apartment buildings where banks of smart meters expose residents to high levels of pulsed RF radiation that the World Health Organization considers a Class 2B Carcinogen. “CARE” is a reduced utility rate program for families living below the federal poverty line. In January 2012, Michael Hoover of SCE wrote to Zafar of CPUC and Cherry of PG&E:
“We need an up front fee that is significant, or a path to achieve that. This is especially true for CARE customers. This is a big deal for us and I think the potential for significant increases in opt out is rather large if the fee is set too low. Are we all on the same page?”
Could using financial screws to force hazardous meters on those in poverty be too toxic even for Brian Cherry, who replies:
Then Zafar, like a bully in the playground, chides Cherry for being soft:
“That’s because PG&E’s judgment is suspect…”
In November of 2011, CPUC officials internally circulated a press release from Stop Smart Meters! that made reference to the fact that PG&E had recently replaced a smart meter with an analog on a woman’s house in Santa Cruz whose family was suffering health impacts from the new microwave-emitting meter. Zafar rebukes PG&E and orders them to keep smart meters on homes, even after residents have demanded and given legal notice that they be removed, and even for those with physician’s letters or those suffering so badly they could no longer occupy their homes (“this blog” is StopSmartMeters.org):
“See below. Please do not replace smart meters with analog meters; I’m assuming this blog is delusional and they’re lying. The Commission will issue a (Proposed Decision) sometime this month or early next month to consider an opt-out program; until such time you have the delay list.”
Despite Zafar’s hard line stance, it turns out she knew from personal experience that there were serious problems with the meters. She wrote in January 2011 to PG&E:
“I’m also copying Cliff to this e-mail as I spoke with him this morning; he came to my house :-). I have a smart meter and a motion light interference that is hopefully now resolved.”
According to the LA Times, when a smart meter was installed on former CPUC President Michael Peevey’s 3118 sq. foot second home in Sea Ranch on the Sonoma County coast (where Peevey and PG&E’s VP of Regulatory Relations Brian Cherry shared bottles of Johnny Walker Blue Label according to e-mails) Peevey’s bills went through the roof and he complained to PG&E in November 2011:
“Please check something out for me. Just had a “smart meter” installed at Sea Ranch. And, now I have the bill for the first month. Something is screwy. The bill says we used 973 KWH versus 438 for the same time period one year ago. Yet, there was no one at the house during the most recent 30 day period. Nor was there anyone there one year ago. Obviously something is wrong. I would like an explanation.”
Apparently Peevey wasn’t the only Commissioner who reported significant overcharging. PG&E wrote in an e-mail that two commissioners in one night complained about inaccuracies on their bills after smart meters were installed.
In September 2011, after a fire started in a smart metered electrical panel in a Santa Rosa Mall, Cherry wrote to CPUC Executive Director Paul Clanon. There was not the slightest concern about whether the smart meters were actually starting fires, or whether and how the CPUC and/ or PG&E should investigate this potentially serious public safety hazard. Instead the focus was on spinning the story in the media:
“We have also contacted several fire chiefs who are sympathetic and may comment on the most recent meter issue.”
What exactly is meant by “sympathetic” given that hundreds of thousands of smart meters have now been recalled due to fire risk and people have lost their lives?
In November 2013, PG&E was again scolded by Zafar after their call center staff advised a customer who had problems with smart meters to (gasp!) contact the CPUC. Sidney Dietz of PG&E responds:
“We found the call, and indeed our customer-service representative (CSR) advised, in error, the customer to call the CPUC. One of the managers contacted this particular CSR and her supervisor and made sure she understands the problem, and we will be updating the script to make it absolutely clear that we should not pass the problem to the CPUC. This same manager is one of the trainers for the CSRs (they train constantly), and will maintain an emphasis on not passing the buck. As you know, the group at PG&E that works on complaints and speaks regularly with the CPUC complaints group understand that this is not the right way to handle customers, and works to get this kind of thing correct.”
The task of the California Public Utilities Commission’s Consumer Affairs Branch – according to the CPUC’s website – is to: “assist consumers in resolving disputes with their utility company.” Yet, Ms. Zafar chided PG&E for “passing the problem” when customer service representatives suggested that people with smart meter problems contact the CPUC. These e-mails confirm what watchdog groups have been claiming for years—that the CPUC literally has become a satellite office for the investor owned utility and telecom corporations – a “rogue agency” as former CPUC President Loretta Lynch now refers to the agency she once led.
While CPUC officials privately grappled with problems caused by smart meters at their own homes, publicly they denied these problems existed despite thousands of complaints to the contrary confirming these were systemic problems. An unfair and extortionate opt out policy was approved in violation of the CA Public Utility Code, charging customers hundreds of dollars a year to protect their safety. Thousands still refuse to pay this extortion.
Those responsible for this criminal activity should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and the California legislature needs to do its job and hold hearings to get to the bottom of these criminal relationships that have cost Californians their lives. All redacted e-mails must immediately be made public.
Peevey and company should be put behind bars.
Given the lies, recklessness and betrayal of trust that has characterized the forced smart meter deployment, the extortionate opt out fee policy should immediately be eliminated and past fees that have been paid by ratepayers refunded with an apology. Excessive charges paid by utility customers based on inaccurate smart meter readings must likewise be refunded. A truly independent investigation into fires, health hazards, and the calibration and accuracy of smart meters must be carried out. Smart meters must be recalled and replaced with safe, electromechanical analog meters NOW. At the end of the day, human life is more important than protecting this corrupt power structure and the egos of PG&E and CPUC executives.
Special Thanks to the following groups for ongoing collaborative research efforts that have led to the discovery of these e-mails. There will be more to come!