The Marin County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to impose a one-year moratorium on the installation of Pacific Gas & Electric's , garnering a rousing ovation from a packed house of vocal critics of the devices. The impact of the ban is in doubt, however, as PG&E officials said that installations will continue and the board is not the agency that would impose an enforceable moratorium.
It was the second consecutive board meeting in which residents from all over Marin packed the supervisors' chambers to express their concern over what has become a charged issue here in Marin, with two women getting arrested last week when they tried to block the truck of a PG&E contractor attempting to install the SmartMeters in Inverness.
The new technology wirelessly transmits gas- and electricity-consumption data to PG&E, eliminating the need for so-called "meter reader" employees and providing customers with information about how much power they are consuming.
Supervisor and Mill Valley resident Charles McGlashan called PG&E's response to the SmartMeter outcry "this sort of two-handed hypocritical behavior when people are trying to maximize profit instead of benefiting the public."
"I am increasingly repulsed by what happens when well-meaning people get infected by the need to maximize profits at the expense of everything else," McGlashan continued before approving the moratorium. "I am really sorry about that."
The ban would impact only households in unincorporated Marin, but supervisors said they hoped the move would pave the wave for other cities and towns in Marin to follow suit.
The enforceability of such a ban is open for debate, as local governments have no regulatory power over the smart-grid technology of utilities like PG&E, and the body that does have that power, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), has already given them the green light.
"This ordinance will mean nothing because we are the regulatory body that would issue a moratorium, and we have not done so," said commission spokesperson Susan Carothers, who pointed to the CPUC's commission of a independent analysis of SmartMeters that refuted many critics' claims.
McGlashan called on incoming Gov. Jerry Brown to identify possible appointees to the commission that would push back on PG&E, and threw his own hat in the ring as a possible a nominee.
The commission did not return calls for comment on the supervisors' decision Tuesday.
A moratorium similar to the county's was last August. It essentially moved Fairfax to the bottom of PG&E's list of Smart Meter installations in Marin. In the meantime, the company scheduled a series of public meetings on the subject there and elsewhere in Marin but has not altered its plans.
PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith said the regulatory authority of Smart Meters "is ultimately under the oversight of the CPUC," and cited the 35 public events the company has held in Marin on the subject. He said installations in Marin will continue into 2012, but declined to comment on installation plans in specific towns or cities.
The Mill Valley City Council to send letters to the CPUC, asking the agency to make Smart Meters optional for people who are sensitive to the radio frequencies emitted by the meters and to express its concerns about the possible health effects.
Regardless of the ban's lack of regulatory teeth, the decision thrilled dozens of Smart Meter opponents who said the devices pose a slew of health risks, are inaccurate, lead to higher energy consumption and infringe on their privacy and their right to choose what type of technology is installed on their property.
Fairfax Mayor Larry Bragman said his town's moratorium "has become a broad social movement that crosses political and ideological lines" with concerns about choice, privacy and an "increase of electromagnetic frequencies in our community that is unprecedented."
San Anselmo Mayor Ford Greene, whose town council on the legality of a , said that PG&E has been "ramming Smart Meters down our collective throats…We need you, our elected officials, to protect us from PG&E."
Katharina Sandizell, a 41-year-old resident of Point Reyes Station who was arrested Dec. 29 while trying to block trucks installing SmartMeters in Inverness accused an "unjust and neutered CPUC" for "rolling over on continuing the installation despite community protest."
Other residents have joined with Sandizell in resisting the Smart Meter installation. Tam Valley resident Ann Spake said she has padlocked her gate to avoid unwanted installation and has been subjected to "weekly threatening robo-calls from PG&E."
"There is a climate of terror and fear and harassment and anxiety that's being created in our lives by not knowing whether when we go home we will have one of these toxic elements in our homes," said Mill Valley resident Linda Brauner.
After a long period of public input, the discussion from the supervisors was brief, and the vote was swift.
"This isn't going to solve the problem on its own but it's an important next step," said Supervisor Steve Kinsey, who also called for the county to send letters to the commission and the Federal Communications Commission expressing its position.
"This is a political action," Supervisor Judy Arnold said. "Don't be deceived that political actions don't work. Think about the American revolution…this is democracy in action."