California regulators say Pacific Gas & Electric Co. can start charging its customers fees to avoid having wireless utility meters installed in their homes.

Four members of the California Public Utilities Commission approved a proposal Wednesday that allows PG&E to charge residential customers an initial fee of $75, and a monthly fee of $10 to opt out of the company’s SmartMeter program.

Low-income customers who want to opt out can be charged an initial fee of $10, plus an extra $5 each month.

“The standard for metering has been transitioning worldwide from the older technology of analog meters to today’s Smart Meter technology,” said CPUC President Michael R. Peevey. “We are not reversing that transition by allowing for an analog opt-out, but we are recognizing that certain customers prefer an analog meter.”

Dozens of people and advocacy groups from Fairfax to San Luis Obispo testified at the commission’s meeting saying exposure to radio frequencies and radiation from the wireless electricity and gas meters harms people’s health.

PG&E maintains that the meters are safe and will bring down the utility’s meter reading costs.

The issue is unlikely to go away, considering the vehemence of some SmartMeter opponents. From the San Jose Mercury News:

Consumers are adamantly opposed to paying the fees, which they say amounts to extortion.

“This is a crime against humanity!” screamed one woman after the vote passed. “Shame!” chanted another. Peevey had to ask security guards to clear the room, and the lobby quickly filled with tearful and angry consumers…

(O)pting out is far from the only issue. Many consumers who spoke before the commission Wednesday raised concerns about their neighbors’ Smart Meters, or said that tenants of apartment buildings cannot escape large banks of Smart Meters. The issue of “community opt-out” and apartment dwellers are likely to be discussed in a future proceeding.

“We’re not going to stop. We’re not going away,” said Josh Hart, a Santa Cruz County resident and organizer of a grass-roots group called Stop Smart Meters. “People are going to refuse to pay these fees. You’re going to see personal injury lawsuits and class action lawsuits.”

This Feb 2011 article from Grist does a pretty good job of addressing what science has to say about the potential health effects of SmartMeters.

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