By STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS
A state investigation says a former PG&E employee who used a false name to try to spy on activists in Sebastopol and elsewhere opposed to SmartMeters did not act
alone but had support from senior managers.
William Devereaux resigned in November 2010 after admitting he used the name “Ralph” to try to infiltrate a Sebastopol-based online group of consumers opposed to PG&E’s digital meters.
At the time, PG&E characterized him as a rogue employee who acted on his own. Devereaux was the senior director of PG&E’s SmartMeter program from October 2009 through early November 2010.
A lengthy investigation by the state Public Utilities Commission revealed Devereaux forwarded emails he collected using the false identity to his boss and other senior managers at PG&E, including a member of the legal department.
“PG&E senior management knew of Mr. Devereaux’s deceit before it was reported in the press and failed to prevent and stop his inappropriate behavior,” said the eight-page finding from the PUC, released Wednesday.
“By lying to and infiltrating anti-smart meter consumer groups, Mr. Devereaux, acting on behalf of PG&E, violated PG&E’s obligation to provide just and reasonable service to its customers,” the finding said.
The names of senior managers involved were not revealed.
The PUC investigation now enters the “penalty phase,” where regulators will determine what, if any, fines PG&E should pay.
“It confirms what we believed all along,” said Sandi Maurer of Sebastopol, founder of the activist group EMF Safety Network. “That Devereaux didn’t act alone. His supervisors and senior executives knew what he was doing.”
Maurer met Devereaux at a forum in Sebastopol in April 2010. Then in November 2010, Maurer, the moderator of an online forum for anti-SmartMeter activists statewide, received an email from “Ralph,” who said he lived in Oakland, asking to join the forum and help with group activities.
But Maurer knew it was a hoax because Devereaux’s name was listed alongside his email address.
Activists suspect Devereaux used the same email address on Sept. 18, 2010, to join an online forum called SmartWarriorMarin and leave a critical comment. The note read: “The hypocrisy of your own arguments as you pick and chose (sic) yourself about the science regarding rf, make unsubstantiated claims about smart meter energy use, and make completely irresponsible allegations trying to link smart meters to the tragedy of San Bruno.”
“RF” refers to radio frequencies, which some people fear can heighten the risk for such medical ailments as cancer at certain exposure levels, such as those emitted by SmartMeters. A variety of scientific studies have found no such link.
The reference to San Bruno is to a PG&E natural gas line that ruptured Sept. 9, 2010, with the ensuing explosion and fire killing eight people and destroying 38 homes.
Activists suspect Devereaux also gained advance knowledge of an Oct. 28, 2010, protest at Wellington Energy in Rohnert Park, which they said would explain why the facility was deserted when protesters showed up that morning. The company provided crews to install the new meters.
PG&E says it will continue to fully cooperate with the PUC’s investigation.
PG&E previously did its own investigation that revealed others were aware of Devereaux’s surveillance activity but did not realize he was using an alias.
“This former employee’s activity was not in keeping with PG&E’s values,” PG&E spokesman Greg Snapper said Wednesday.
“Since then we have developed training for our employees about the professional use of social media. Our expectation and clear message to employees is that they participate in social media and online activities with integrity and respect and are transparent about their work with PG&E.”
Devereaux was unavailable for comment.
This story was compiled from reports by Press Democrat news staff and the San Jose Mercury News.