Are Smart Meters accurate? — the Structure Group report

Bakersfield Californian columnist Lois Henry has written extensively on the problems with PG&E Smart Meters. Below are links to many of her articles.

After high bills plagued Bakersfield residents, they and a few legislators, chiefly former California State Senator Dean Florez, put a great deal of pressure on the California Public Utilities Commission to halt the roll-out and investigate. After months of delay, the CPUC finally agreed to hire a consultant to investigate these problems.

However, the CPUC hired the Structure Group, an industry consultant specializing in the Smart Grid. Many opposed this choice because of the conflict of interest, but the CPUC went ahead anyway. This is covered on pages 11-18 here:

After the Structure Group finished their report, many questions were raised by the public. The CPUC’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates also questioned the findings (October 29, 2010):

“The Commission should establish a process that allows interested parties to evaluate and comment on the Structure Group Report. The Commission should then make its own findings on the reasons for the problems consumers have experienced with PG&E’s SmartMeters, and decide whether they have been adequately addressed.“
DRA Reply Comments on What the Commission Should Do in Light of the Structure Group Report, p. 3-5, 6, Application 07-12-009, October 29, 2010

DRA also stated in another proceeding that there is more work to be done to evaluate these meters to

“restore public confidence in SmartMeters (if such confidence is warranted)”
DRA Response to Application of Californians For Renewable Energy, Inc. (CARE) To Modify Decision 06-07-027, A.10-09-012, page 10, October 20, 2010

But the CPUC did not launch an investigation. CPUC Chairman Michael Peevey responded:

In particular, we find that the argument of CCSF, DRA, and TURN that the Commission should use this proceeding to review the Structure Group Report is unpersuasive. As noted previously, the facts alleged in the record of this proceeding, even if true, fail to warrant the suspension of the SmartMeter installation program. The PG&E reports cited by CCSF and the customer complaints reported in the media do not warrant the costly action of suspending the installation of a major infrastructure program that offers important conservation and demand response benefits. Thus, the Commission does not need the findings of the Structure Report to decide the matter before us.

As a general proposition, the Commission’s requesting of a report does not trigger a proceeding. The Commission orders, sponsors, and receives many reports that do not become the subject of a Commission proceeding. An investigation of the Structure Report is not warranted in this proceeding nor necessary to its resolution.
Final Decision (10-12-031) Denying the City and County of San Francisco’s Petition to Modify Decision 09-03-026, December 2010, p. 19, 20

This issue is important because the Structure Group report has been widely used by the utility industry as proof that Smart Meters are accurate and reliable.

Since the CPUC did not follow the DRA’s recommendations and refused to review the report or launch their own investigation, the DRA began its own investigation of the Structure Group report.

This is what Lois Henry wrote about their investigation.
[‘splaining’ is American slang for ‘explaining’]

Smart meters still have ‘splaining to do

The Bakersfield Californian | Sunday, Jul 24 2011

The California Public Utilities Commission has a chance to do the right thing and, finally, side with consumers on the SmartMeter debacle.

But it will take outside pressure.

The Division of Ratepayer Advocates, an agency within the PUC, told PUC commissioners recently that it has serious questions about a report issued last fall on SmartMeter accuracy.[Structure Group — DRA report 7-15-11]

That PUC unit, however, has been forced to abandon its efforts to get at the truth as it could not get the report’s authors, The Structure Group, to answer questions.

The Structure Group is a power industry consulting group that was hired by the PUC (for $1.4 million) to do an “independent” evaluation of SmartMeters overall and specifically to determine if a spike in bills in Bakersfield and elsewhere in 2009 was caused by the new meters. I put independent in quotes because it was discovered that Structure had contracted with PG&E for several years and at least one of Structure’s vice presidents was a former PG&E vice president.

Oh, and I hate to be picky, but since I am, I will point out that SmartMeter billing issues came up long before the summer of 2009. That’s a convenient timeframe for PG&E because they would like people to think the freaky bills were caused by a heat wave and rate hike. But I started writing about wacky bills in the winter of 2007/2008, a few months after the first SmartMeters showed up on Bakersfield homes. No heat wave and no rate hike involved.

Even then dozens, if not hundreds, of people saw their bills spike to three and five times normal. Then they dropped back to normal. No one has ever been able to explain why.

Back to The Structure Group report.

Released last September, the report concluded the meters were accurate, overall. However, it faulted PG&E for poor customer service and for installing meters faster than its infrastructure could handle.

But the Ratepayer Advocates division and others outside the PUC had serious questions about the report’s conclusions and methodology.

“We did jump up and down at the time,” Ratepayer Advocates interim director Joseph Como said when I asked why his agency was just now squawking about the report. “We filed responses with the (PUC) and asked them to open the process to critical analysis and we filed a preliminary analysis saying the report didn’t say there were no problems with the meters and, more importantly, it doesn’t say what the root cause was of the unexplained high bills.”

Did I mention we paid $1.4 million for a report that didn’t answer that key question? Sheesh!

As an example of just how slipshod the report was, Como noted that in its own testing The Structure Group found some meters overestimated power usage when their internal temperatures got too high. But they didn’t follow up or do any further testing. It was a buried bit of stray information until PG&E was finally forced to admit in May that, uhhh, yeah, some of its meters do have that problem.

Former State Sen. Dean Florez was among the frustrated third parties last fall who wanted more information. He initially scheduled hearings for mid-September. But one of PG&E’s gas pipelines exploded beneath San Bruno killing eight people a few days before the hearings, which were then canceled.

“I still believe that ratepayers deserve a fair and accurate analysis of the SmartMeter program, which should come at the expense of the utilities,” Florez wrote in an email.

He discounted PG&E’s assertion that the high temperature problem only affects a few meters. Even in their flawed analysis, he noted, The Structure Group reported that one out of the six meters tested had that malfunction.

“With 5.1 million SmartMeters in PG&E territory that could mean 850,000 meters.”

So what can we do about it?

“Frankly, I don’t know,” Como said in exasperation. CC’ing the media about its concerns was kind of a last ditch effort, an attempt to “try to embarrass the commission.”

Didn’t work.

PUC President Michael Peevey was too busy to chat but sent comments through a spokesperson: “Structure’s report found that the meters, software, and billing systems are performing accurately. Structure and the CPUC stand behind the report’s findings.”

Clearly, he would like that to be the end of the story. Well, it’s not. The folks here in Bakersfield who got hosed on their power bills still deserve to know what went wrong.

There are three newly appointed commissioners, Mike Florio, Catherine Sandoval and Mark Ferron, who are coming up for confirmation before the Senate Rules Committee in the next month or so.

I’m hoping committee members, including our own Jean Fuller, will grill them and get a commitment to reopen the report and give it a full, public airing.

Fuller told me she’s perfectly happy to put the screws to the new commissioners over this report.

Good, we’ll be watching.

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at, call her at 661-395-7373 or e-mail

The CPUC never compelled the Structure Group to answer the questions of the DRA. Nothing was ever done.

Though the industry cites the Structure Group report as proof that all is well, the problems continue. Pacific Gas and Electric Company and the utility industry are still making excuses. And most utility oversight agencies are protecting the utility industry and refuse to address these serious problems.

When will public stand up and take action?

——————————————————————— 10-26-11 10-31-11

Used under Fair Use Rules.

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