Customer told to leave meeting after confrontation
A heated dispute with an angry customer overshadowed regular business at an electric company meeting in Delleker last week.
|“Out! You are filming me without my permission, and that is a crime in California.” Bob Marshall, General Manger of Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative|
During the Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative meeting Tuesday, Feb. 25, a Clio couple blasted the co-op over a disputed meter.
The confrontation ended after PSREC General Manager Bob Marshall told the couple to leave for shooting video during the members’ meeting.
The meeting also included discussion about drought-related rate increases and fiber optic progress. But the unexpected confrontation caught those in the cooperative’s conference room by surprise.
During a feedback session at the meeting, Clio resident Heidi Hart spoke about a dispute she and her husband, Josh Hart, have with Marshall and the cooperative.
She said the cooperative cut off their electricity after they refused to pay an “opt-out fee” for the use of an analog meter.
An analog meter must be read personally, unlike the co-op’s new advanced reading meters, which send out a radio frequency documenting the electricity usage.
Josh Hart is an activist against “smart meters,” or meters that emit microwave radiation, and is the director of a website and advocacy programs against the usage of those meters.
Heidi Hart said that wireless device emissions negatively affect her husband’s health. They said they did not want one of the new meters installed at their residence.
“PSREC refuses to work with us,” she said. “Threatening instead to install a wireless transmitting meter on our home … I am shocked and appalled by PSREC’s behavior and their decision to cut us off.”
In the midst of Hart’s comments, Marshall saw Josh Hart shooting video with a small camera.
“Out!” Marshall exclaimed, pointing Josh Hart toward the door. “You are filming me without my permission, and that is a crime in California.”
“It is a public meeting,” Josh Hart said.
“No it’s not, it’s a member meeting. Out, please, or I’m getting the sheriff,” Marshall replied.
Then the Harts and Marshall got into a fiery discussion about the meters.
“We disagree strongly with everything you just said,” Marshall said to Heidi Hart. “We disagree with your statements. We disagree with your bullying, and your husband’s threats.”
Josh Hart rebutted with a raised voice. He said the meter situation was not fair, and added that he thought Marshall was behaving poorly.
It was finally put to an end by board Vice President Dave Roberti.
“This has nothing to do with a rate discussion or a rate meeting,” he said. “That’s enough of this discussion.”
The Harts packed their things and headed toward the door, still expressing their disdain for the company.
“Cooperative, yeah right,” Josh Hart said as they left.
Marshall apologized to the members and public in attendance, saying PSREC has been in an ongoing dispute with the Harts for the last few weeks.
He explained in an interview after the meeting that the “opt-out” fees cover the cost of labor and manpower to go to a house and check the meter.
“At the request of Mr. Hart we developed an ‘opt-out’ program for our radiometers,” Marshall explained. “It has some components, and we tell everyone up front that we charge for a meter change-out … and they pay us $15 a month for us to send a man to drive by and do a manual read.”
He said the fee is meant to fairly allocate costs to the members. Without it “the other members would have to pay for the cost of manually reading the analog meter.”
Drought causes rate increase
Marshall also addressed the rate increase at the meeting. He explained that 36 percent of the company’s power supply comes from hydropower in various watersheds.
However, he said because of the drought, the co-op will only receive enough hydropower to cover 22 percent of the power supply for its 6,600 member/owners in Plumas, Lassen and Sierra counties.
As a result, Marshall said the cooperative will have to raise rates by 3.7 percent in order to seek more expensive sources of power in the market.
Fiber optic update
Marshall also provided an update on the status of the fiber optic program that will bring high-speed Internet into the county.
After a 3-1/2-year project, a grant, which provided for the installation of the fiber optic system, is complete.
The co-op has started construction and, according to Marshall, the main goal is to add carriers to the program.
He said the company is focusing on the bigger customers right now so it can generate revenue. But he said they “have not forgotten about the residents” and they would like to start spreading into the Portola area by the end of March or beginning of April.