Tampering defined

Many people are stuck with a  dumb utility meter they don’t want on their home.  They call their utility company and ask for the analog meter back and their request is denied.  Some people have taken matters into their own hands, bought an analog meter, hired an electrician and swapped the meter.  The question whether or not this is legal based on tampering laws has been questioned.  The EMF Safety Network hired environmental attorney Rose Zoia to investigate the legal risks of restoring analog meters.

Q: What is the definition of tampering with an electrical meter?

A: The California Penal Code states tamper “means to rearrange, injure, alter, interfere with, or otherwise prevent from performing a normal or customary function.” With respect to the provision of an utility, it is a misdemeanor to do (1) specified acts with the intent to obtain utility services without paying the full charge, or with the intent to enable another person to do so, or with the intent to deprive any utility of its full lawful charges for utility services. (2)

Those specified and prohibited acts include (1) diversion of utility services, (2) preventing any utility meter or other device used in determining the charge for utility services from accurately performing its measuring function by tampering or by any other means, (3) tampering with any property owned by or used by the utility to provide utility services, and (4) connecting or reconnecting with property owned or used by the utility to provide utility services without the authorization or consent of the utility.(3)

So, tampering is a misdemeanor crime which requires the specific intent to get the utility service for a lower cost than that charged by, among other things, preventing the utility meter from accurately measuring use by some means.

(1)§ 498, subd. (a)(6).

(2) Id., subd. (b); 18A Cal. Jur. 3d Criminal Law: Crimes Against Property

(August 2011), § 192.

(3) Ibid.

Q: Does replacement of a SmartMeter with an analog meter constitute tampering?

A: “The replacement of a SmartMeter with an analog meter should not constitute illegal tampering unless it is done with the intent to prevent the device from accurately measuring electrical use. Although the disconnection of the SmartMeter prevents it from recording electrical use, if such disconnection is not done with the intent to get lower electrical rates and a working analog meter that accurately records electrical use replaces the SmartMeter , the resident should be clear of any charges of tampering. “

So it seems as long as you are not attempting to steal electricity, swapping a meter would not be considering illegal based on tampering laws.

37 thoughts on “Tampering defined”

  1. I would imagine that legal safety would include returning the Smart Meter to the utility company since it belongs to the utility and not to the residence? How should that be done? Thank you.

  2. This is an important point Holland. The lawyer was looking into this. Will post when I know more. Sandi

  3. You probably can find the info without a lawyer, but I really value having the lawyers opinion. The tampering laws are probably accessible to the public in your state.

  4. For people who restore an analog, they could self read or the utility company could estimate, or read bi-annually, or-how about the meter readers could have their jobs back? In California the issue is being decided at the Public Utilities Commission.

    Meter readers play a vital and important role in assessing safety conditions for gas and electricity service. Getting rid of meter readers saves the utility company money for “positions captured” (PG&E terminology for job loss)

    The use of microwave meters in banks in Apartments is also being discussed and is very important that they be removed!

  5. I recommend that folks considering this action due a few things:
    One, insure they do it safely, get a savvy electrical friend or an undefined electrician to do it. Analogs can be purchased through some large hardware stores, electrical outlets or at Hialeah Meters in Florida.
    Two, hold both meters up and take a dated photo of the two so you can read the settings. Immediately send a copy of this photo to yourself through the mail and do not open. Send a copy to the Utility whose meter you are returning. Send a copy to the CPUC. Send it to your attorney and do this the same day if possible.
    Three, take or mail the dumbmeter to the utility. If you mail it be sure it is insured for at least $100.00 and pack it carefully. Due this as timely as possible. You do not want to be accused of stealing power! But you should be able to take your power back!
    In the recent CPUC meeting one of the PG&E reps said they would make good on their list. But folks that felt tricked should have a right to remove it and the Department of Rate Payers as subset of the CPUC said that this was an important component of the Opt Out process.
    Take your power back!
    Greg Krouse
    Refuses Smart Meters Mendocino
    refusesmartmetersmendo@saber.com

  6. Hi Greg- thanks for your excellent advice. You’ve given people a way to be swap the meter responsibly.
    I still have a question in to the lawyer about what to do with the dumb meter once its removed. Maybe people could also hand deliver it, in a box with their name on it to the PG&E office to save the expense of mailing? Then again maybe people don’t want to be “outed”. What do you think?

  7. I’ve got to say that this definition of “tampering” you’ve got on your website really cracked me up. You have two paragraphs taken from the law, and in the second paragraph, three-quarters of its terms define tampering in terms of tampering. In other words, circular. The last item in the second paragraph only mentions connecting and reconnecting. So disconnecting the unwanted Smartmeter is not covered under the law.

    In other words, only the first paragraph has any substance, in the sense that it prohibits stealing power or defrauding the company of money owed.

    But that means that the Smartmeters themselves are a form of reverse tampering, and hence installation should also be covered under the law as a misdemeanor. The utility puts in a Smeter which uses the customer’s power to run its broadcast functions, and charges the customer for this — that is, for power that the customer does not get to use. In terms of this law, the utility is stealing power from the customer to run its proprietary equipment.

    For a customer to put back in an analog meter would then be an act of redeeming the utility from committing the crime of stealing power from the customer.

    In short, it is the duty and responsibility of everyone in this state to replace their Smeters with analog meters.

  8. Steve Martinot wrote:
    “For a customer to put back in an analog meter would then be an act of redeeming the utility from committing the crime of stealing power from the customer. ”

    I do not see how this would be an act of redeeming the utility unless the meter is voluntarily given back to them, which would amount to we as victims conceding that the utility had the right to have custody of a piece of evidence that would be used in a possible criminal trial against them.

    Restoring the electrical system to it’s original condition with an analog meter is really just the legal pro forma of “mitigating damages”. The victim of a fraud, theft or other kind of malicious mischief has a duty to mitigate damages as best they can and as soon as is practical after the crime is discovered. Indeed, as soon as the crime is discovered the police should be notified and a police report taken so that the smartmeter item can be placed in their custody for the purposes of evidence preservation. The Smartmeter itself should be carefully sequestered an important exhibit in the criminal prosecution against the utility.

    However, here in Santa Cruz County (CA, USA) it is not entirely clear that the utility company, (PG&E) is the actual perpetrator, because the ratepayers are not privy to the terms of their contract with Wellington Energy inc. Wellington personnel are carrying out the actual installations in this area, which are characteristically stealthy trespass incidents onto private property that often take place when people are not home. While we recognize that PG&E has a right in the form of an easement onto private property in order to read the meter, how is the right to enter properties assigned to a third party like Wellington?

    What I suspect the strategy is that Wellington will eventually have to accept full responsibility for the damages and trespasses they have comitted, but in collusion with their accomplices, (PG&E) they will try to use civil bankruptcy laws so that they can either fold or reorganize at some later time so that all the principals escape scott free.

    In order to prevent this, the citizens/ratepayers must force the issue as a criminal matter with their local sheriff or police.

  9. Steve Martinot said
    “But that means that the Smartmeters themselves are a form of reverse tampering, and hence installation should also be covered under the law as a misdemeanor. The utility puts in a Smeter which uses the customer’s power to run its broadcast functions, and charges the customer for this — that is, for power that the customer does not get to use. In terms of this law, the utility is stealing power from the customer to run its proprietary equipment. ”

    You sir, are simply wrong.
    The power to run the electronics in every single KWH meter in the US is taken from the utility side of the socket. None of the current which powers the meter itself (including the transmitter) flows through the current coils of the meter. In fact, this UNMETERED power (in the range of a few watts per device) is calculated and figured into the utilities cost of operation. It is part of your cost to serve, and is generally figured in as a constant loss to the system. This is similar to the watts lost as heat in the transmission and distribution lines, as well as the watts lost as heat in every single transformer in the grid. Please examine the schematic diagram for any brand of KWH meter and understand this before claiming that you are being ripped off. PS – as it has always taken some small amount of power to energize and operate any meter, this has been the design of meters since around 1900. i.e., the current used to run the measuring device is not run through the measuring device itself.
    (I am a Licensed Professional Electrical Engineer who has been in this field for over 30 years.)

  10. For Jennifer, from Oct. 9th:

    Down here in S.C.Edisonyland, I’ve been told (both by sce employees and solar owners) that the grid-tied solar installations currently need an analog meter for such system. A stupid surveillance meter that can handle solar is in the works yet one thing we can get from this is that they’ll need, at least for a while, readers to check those analogs!
    Start looking around, bet there’ll be a need for a meter reader to come to your area regularly. Or perhaps, create that need yourself.

  11. This is great information. Where do you get the address to mail the smart meters back to PG&E? I live in the bay area. Does anyone know where to find an electrician that can replace the smart meter with an analog?

  12. I would recommend you not remove you new smart meter. It could result in a legal problem for you even if you in the right. If would be better to create legal problems for them. If you have a smart meter at you home that is causing heath problems for you or a family member sue them to have the meter removed. When you file the small claims lawsuit name the subcontractor installing company, the power company & CEO, and anyone related. In the lawsuit just ask for the meter to be replaced with a analog meter. The utilities don’t want to spend time or money going to court the will just replace the meter.

  13. We were just sent a notice that we will be charged for meter tampering. We changed out the digital meter to an analog meter. They came out and switched it so we took it off again and they came a second time to switch it out. We documented the switch both times with pictures and video but does anyone know the most effective avenue for sending the information as proof without legal representation? I live in TX by the way… These electric companies are crooks! It’s appalling to see people’s lives, health and well being compromised! Sad…

  14. I was charged 300.00 by my electric company here in brownsville tx for allegedly tampering with my electric meter. I asked them under puc laws to furnish me with the pictures and affadavit signed by the company employee. They told me no puctures need to be taken or an company employee affadavit is needed. I asked how was the meter tampered with and got no reply. The electric company down here is worse than the cartels.

  15. I live in upper marlboro md, Belmont Crest community where the HOA watch committee takes advantage of the smart meterabiliy to monitor by monitoring its homeowners wireless communication. To include the internet, outside survellance cameras, cell phones any ekectrucal items that have wurekess capabilities, home alarm system even printer. With this power they harrass and terrioze any homeowner who question their fraulent billing practices ir position. The presudent has been in place since the inception of the HOA five yearago and the law orotects them

  16. I live in upper marlboro md, Belmont Crest community where the HOA watch committee takes advantage of the smart meter abiliy to monitor, by monitoring its homeowners wireless communication. To include the internet, outside survellance cameras, cell phones any electrical items that have wireless capabilities, home alarm system even printer. With this power they harrass and terrioze any homeowner who question their fraudulent billing practices or there position. The president has been in place since the inception of the HOA over five year ago. Unfortunately, the law protects them in Prince George county because of lack in elecyronic skill set. They dont see or understand the crime being committed

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