Pacific Power has dropped a $137 opt-out fee for Oregonians who don’t want a smart meter installed at their residence, a company representative said Wednesday.
Oregon’s Public Utility Commission Tuesday in Salem approved the utility’s request to drop the opt-out fee, Christina Kruger, regional business manager, told the Talent City Council, but a $36 monthly meter-reading fee remains. Talent was among the communities that raised concerns about the smart meters and opt-out fees, with the council passing a resolution July 3 calling for fee reductions.
“Upon a lot of public feedback regarding that fee and looking at that fee, we decided it was in the best interests of our customers to try to roll that fee back. It was effective as of today,” said Kruger. “It was pretty plain to us by the comments of the commissioners and the commission staff that we were tasked to go back to make a determination on how those costs or any other future costs for opt-outs will be recovered.”
The utility will evaluate the impact of smart-meter installations and return to the commission later to report on costs of reading analog meters, which could affect the monthly fees.
Smart meters are attached to meter bases to record electrical consumption and communicate the information for monitoring and billing. The meters send data through radio frequency signals. Pacific Power’s installations will allow consumers to review the information through internet accounts. Residents have voiced concerns about potential health effects of the low-level radio frequency emissions from the meters, safety and a lack of public input and choice. More than 70 million smart meters have been installed in the U.S.
Pacific Power says the smart meters, which send out data periodically during the day, produce far lower levels of electro-magnetic frequencies than many common household items. The company says the EMF from a cell phone is 1,100 times stronger than a smart meter’s output.
Talent councilors Emily Berlant and Daria Land commended the utility for responding to city concerns. The resolution cited the economic hardships the fees for opting out and meter reading would impose on low-income residents.
“Thank you for your support in opposing the opt-out fees and the influence your resolution hopefully made in opposing this fee,” said Talent resident Lunette Fleming, who spoke to the council. She had attended the session in Salem.
“We did recognize there was kind of an opportunity to respond more adequately to our customers’ fears and concerns,” said Melissa Nottingham, with Pacific Power, who also addressed the council.
“We weren’t as nimble as we perhaps could have been, but we are learning how to do that now.”
Individuals who spoke on the issue during the council’s public comment period cited the high cost of reading the meters, which would come to $432 a year. Kruger said the utility will assess the situation once a majority of the 227,000 smart meters are installed in Oregon and propose adjustments to the PUC.
One possible way to cut costs might be to read meters less often, she suggested. The PUC’s goal is to assess actual costs to individuals using a particular service, she said. The commission will wait on further action until the agency has time to take a second look at costs, she said.
In Talent, smart-meter installation is 88 percent complete, Kruger told the council. There have been 3,558 smart meters installed out of a possible 4,036. About 4 percent of customers, 175 so far, have opted out of having the installation. Individuals who have opted out and paid the fee will have it credited to their accounts.
“We expect to be done in September in Talent,” said Kruger. Once all smart meters are installed, a six- to eight-week test period will follow to ensure the meters are working correctly. Meter readers will individually check on-site readings against the data received via the new system.
Because meter readers will be in the community in the interim, Pacific Power customers who opted out will not begin paying the $36 monthly fee until the test period is finished.
Berlant asked Kruger how customers who previously didn’t want the smart meters but couldn’t afford the initial opt-out fee might be treated. Reverting to an analog meter from a smart meter costs $169, Kruger said, adding the utility has been looking at that issue and likely will consider those situations on a case-by-case basis.
Pacific Power will also do more education about the meters. A public session is tentatively set for Saturday, Sept. 8, at a local location to be determined. Experts in a variety of areas will be present to answer questions.
Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below is a promotional video on the smart meters from Pacific Power.