Illustration by Matt Boblet.

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) provides gas and electricity to every household and business in northern and central California, from Eureka to Bakersfield. The Smart Meter, a digital device that measures utility usage and sends information to PG&E, was introduced in 2006 when the switchover was approved by the California Public Utilities Commission. The meters emit significant levels of radiation, which may have permanent health effects.

Some support the new technology, noting the convenience of setting up a state-wide network for utlities. The PG&E website lists increased reliability and more choices in pricing plans as benefits.

Forty-three counties in California have voted to oppose PG&E’s Smart Meters, and more than 10 counties, including Santa Cruz, have officially banned installation of them. Yet Santa Cruz residents receive phone calls from PG&E to “schedule” an installation, which may take place in the absence of the owner or tenant.

Unwanted installations have been protested in concerned neighborhoods, but PG&E has faced no real consequences for its violations. Affected residents have no say in what the company installs because PG&E maintains a monopoly over the market, and the state gave the go-ahead.

PG&E has abused its power as a business by ignoring local and county bans on Smart Meters. Their intrusive installations are unethical and disrespectful.

Economic freedom is important to many Americans. The phrase “vote with your dollars” alludes to the democratic tradition of competition between businesses. This competition is vital in maintaining liberty and it is absent in this region’s utility providers.

It has become apparent to many PG&E customers that the company cares more for their profits and shareholders than for the environment or personal rights. The city of San Francisco has unsuccessfully attempted to contract a second energy company twice in the last two years.

In the North Bay, Marin Clean Energy has been providing energy that emits less greenhouse gases than PG&E. Two grades of power became available in May 2010: “light green” (27 percent or more renewable sources) and “deep green” (100 percent). They also offer residents a choice to purchase power from renewable sources such as sunshine and wind.

PG&E responded by mailing information to Marin residents persuading them to opt out of Marin Clean Energy service. PG&E sent a letter to more than 6,000 Marin County residents on May 4, 2010. Utilities commission director Paul Clanon informed PG&E that it was not permitted to send coercive materials prior to the mailing.

According to state law, new customers are to be notified of their options by the Marin Energy Authority first. Clanon suggested PG&E doesn’t have their priorities straight.

“PG&E’S immediate violation of my direction suggests that PG&E may be, in fact, acting in a deliberate manner to subvert the plain meaning of AB 117, the law that created community choice aggregation,” Clanon wrote in a letter to PG&E after the incident.

PG&E needs to respect community decisions regarding what devices are acceptable in local residences and businesses.