The Fairfax, Calif., Town Council has agreed to impose a three-year ban on the installation of Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s SmartMeters.

SmartMeters are electronic monitoring devices that continuously measure the electricity and natural gas use at households and businesses and relay data to the utility; the goal is to enable power companies to better understand patterns of power consumption throughout the day so they can adjust power generation accordingly.

Fairfax Councilman Larry Bragman says, however, that the meters are a poor investment of ratepayers' money. The council voted unanimously last week to impose the ban.

"There are potential health effects that have not been fully studied," Bragman said. And, he adds, "The impact to privacy has not been dealt with effectively by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). That is becoming more of an issue, now that the awareness of privacy issues has become so much more a matter of public concern."

Fairfax initially prohibited installation of SmartMeters with an urgency ordinance in 2010, which it renewed in 2011 and 2012.

"You can renew an urgency ordinance only twice," Bragman said. "So at that point we had to introduce a formal ordinance."

Fairfax Mayor David Weinsoff said a couple of years ago when the Fairfax Town Council conducted public hearings on SmartMeters the community's opposition was overwhelming.

"When a community speaks so loudly and so wisely, really there was no question that the council should continue to impose this moratorium," Weinsoff said.

Brittany McKannay, a PG&E spokeswoman, said, "The CPUC, which regulates PG&E, is the only entity with the jurisdiction to impose a moratorium on the SmartMeter program. We believe every customer should be able to choose whether they want the benefits of a modern grid or want to opt out of the SmartMeter program for any reason."

In February 2012, the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates PG&E, ruled that the investor-owned utility could require customers who want to keep their analog meter to pay a one-time fee of $75, plus an ongoing monthly fee of $10.

Bragman said several government entities, including the Fairfax Town Council and the Marin County Board of Supervisors, have filed an administrative challenge to the ruling. Christopher Chow, a commission spokesman, said a ruling on the challenge is still several month away.

The Marin County Board of Supervisors voted last week to extend a moratorium on installation of SmartMeters in Marin's unincorporated areas for another year. The county first imposed its ban on SmartMeters in 2011.

McKannay told Marin County supervisors last week, when they approved the moratorium, that so far 191,931 SmartMeters have been installed in Marin, and 3,495 customers have opted out.

Bragman said there would likely be more people opting out if not for the fee. He said one of the bases for the challenge is that the opt-out violates California Public Utilities law because it imposes a tariff on customers who are concerned about the health effects of the radio frequency waves used by the SmartMeters.

"Most of the customers who are opting out are doing so because they don't want to be exposed to the electromagnetic field output of the meter," Bragman said.

©2014 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)