SoCal Gas Company aims to go digital

Glendale and Burbank residents can expect to see their gas bills increase by up to $2 per month through 2017 as the Southern California Gas Co. rolls out a $1-billion digital upgrade for meters serving 6 million customers.

“Data collection units” that look like 25- to 45-foot-tall light poles will also set up throughout the cities. About 18 are slated for Glendale — most of which will be in the northern part of the city — and seven may come to Burbank, according to the utility.

The collection units are set to be installed by the beginning of next year, while the battery-operated apparatuses that will replace the dials on gas meters will come to Glendale and Burbank in March and April, respectively.

After the change, the meters will digitally transmit information four times a day to the gas company and allow customers to check their usage online daily, rather than once a month, spokesman Tony Tartaglia said at a Glendale City Council meeting this week.

Tartaglia also serves as a Glendale Community College trustee.

The gas company plans to make a similar presentation at Burbank City Hall before the end of the year.

The project comes after both cities installed their own digital electric and water meters that allow customers to track their usage in near real time.

“This is basically a different incarnation of smart meters,” Glendale Councilwoman Laura Friedman said Tuesday.

But gas company officials are quick to contrast their product, calling them advanced meters, and pointing out that they are much simpler.

Both cities have faced backlash from residents who fear the radio frequency waves emitted by smart meters make them sick. According to the gas company, radio frequency output from most electric smart meters — which is less than a cellphone — is four times more than the new gas meters.

Those who don't want the advanced meters may be able to opt out, but they'd have to pay fees, just like in Glendale and Burbank.

The gas company won't know if it can offer an opt-out option — or how much it may cost — until a state regulatory group makes a ruling in October.

While the gas company says the new technology lets customers check their gas usage more often — and in turn, curb their use to save money — ratepayer advocacy groups call the project a waste of money.

“It's a capital investment for them that they get to profit on,” said Mindy Spatt, communications director for the Utility Reform Network, a watchdog group.

While electricity rates change throughout the day and customers can benefit from shifting their energy use, that's not the case with gas prices, Spatt said.

It may take several years to finish installing the new technology in both cities.

Glendale Mayor Frank Quintero, who applauded the new technology, said the gas company has the right to upgrade its infrastructure.

“We're not controlling the situation,” he said.

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