Smart Meter Backlash Continues as Vermont Moves to Free Opt-Out

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Consumer backlash against smart meters continues to create a small but ongoing drag on utility rollouts, with new opt-out schemes aimed at allaying fears.

The issue: some consumers want nothing to do with smart meters, either because of health concerns about the wireless technology or because of the potential for privacy invasion; and they do not want to pay extra to keep traditional meters. In recent weeks, several developments have highlighted the issue:

– Most notably in Vermont, where the governor is expected to sign a law allowing utility customers to reject a smart meter and pay nothing extra to opt out – at least for the near term, until results of more studies determine the actual costs of not deploying the meters. This free opt-out is a twist to the more common process of customers who opt out having to pay a monthly fee, and in some cases a one-time charge, to keep a traditional meter.

– In Maine, a similar free opt-out option has surfaced as a possibility in the wake of a challenge at the state Supreme Court to a monthly opt-out fee of $12.

– In California, the state’s PUC has approved opt-out schemes for the state’s big three utilities (Pacific Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric, and Southern California Edison) that call for most customers having to pay an initial one-time fee of $75 and then a monthly charge of $10 to keep their traditional meters.

– In Nevada, NV Energy has proposed two opt-out plans: a one-time $98.75 charge plus a monthly fee of $7.61 for Southern Nevada customers; and a one-time $107.66 charge plus monthly fee of $11.01 for Northern Nevada. The state’s utility commission is expected to rule on the opt-out pricing plans by this fall.

– Michigan and Texas are also considering opt-out schemes for customers who do not want a smart meter.

Although the actual number of customers opting out of smart meters remains small – often less than 1 percent of a utility’s total customer base – these people do represent an important minority, often quite vocal, that utility managers must respond to with skill and grace. Today’s utility customers have Internet-enabled tools (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube videos) for getting their points across. And important people are listening, including public utility commissioners and politicians.

The reality is smart meters are here to stay. The benefits to a utility outweigh the drawbacks, and most people are OK with the new technology. However, utility managers need to be smart about their rollouts, and respect customers who have concerns. The right approach is to follow what Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) has done, among others. Erik Krause, the District’s project development manager, says the key is to “focus on transparent and honest communications with customers.” And to provide opt-out programs that give people options – which may include a free one.

Article by Neil Strother, appearing courtesy the Matter Network.

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

1 Comment

  1. That these meters are radioing and relaying ~+/-1W signals all the time is ridiculous. If they were restricted to one radio message every day, that would be plenty to see my daily usage…which they do not even seem to allow the customers to see (at least here for Southern California Edison). Also, radio antennas should be mounted at roof level to avoid the signal intensity at head level. Microwave antenna technicians have had restrictions on dealing with these things for years, why not the general public?

    And then there is the new charge for opting out for having a meter reader come to your house…why not allow sending in of a photo of the meter dials once a month to eliminate this cost? more info at http://stopsmartmeters.org

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