Customers blast PSO’s smart meter opt-out fees at Oklahoma Corporation Commission hearing

Customers blast PSO’s smart meter opt-out fees at Oklahoma Corporation Commission hearing

PSO is installing smart meters at the rate of about 7,500 customers per week and has installed 157,750.
by Paul Monies Published: August 28, 2015
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A group of customers who don’t want smart meters being installed by Public Service Co. of Oklahoma listed a litany of complaints during a two-hour hearing Thursday at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.
Public comments before Administrative Law Judge Ben Jackson ranged from health and safety concerns from radio frequency radiation given off by the meters to privacy issues and the high cost PSO wants to charge customers to opt-out.

PSO won approval from the commission in April to charge customers an extra $3.11 per month to install more than 520,000 smart meters throughout its service territory in eastern and southwestern Oklahoma.

The utility now wants the commission to approve a one-time charge of $183 and monthly fees of $28 for customers who wish to opt out of the smart meter program. The one-time charge would rise to $261 when PSO finishes the rollout of its smart meters.

PSO said it’s installing smart meters at the rate of about 7,500 customers per week and has installed 157,750. The utility said 207 customers have declined or opted out so far.

A witness for Attorney General Scott Pruitt, whose office represents consumers in utility cases, said PSO’s monthly opt-out costs were too high. He suggested a one-time charge of $38.84 and no monthly fees.

Among the customers speaking against the smart meters was Joe Esposito, an Owasso resident who intervened in PSO’s earlier case on smart meters.

Esposito said the commission should study related costs involved in smart meter installation, including health risks, fire dangers and data privacy. He asked the commission to impose a moratorium on their use and tell utilities to turn off all transmissions from the meters.

Jackson reminded Esposito that the Federal Communications Commission regulates the health issues from the radio spectrum and it was outside the jurisdiction of the Corporation Commission.

Smart meters typically emit much lower amounts of radio frequency radiation than microwaves, cellphones, baby monitors and walkie-talkies, according to FCC acceptable limits based on distance and exposure times.

Several customers wondered why PSO was replacing existing mechanical meters, which they said had worked well for decades. Another customer questioned PSO’s opt-out costs and suggested the utility could save money by contracting with a natural gas utility or a water company, which also have meter readers.

In testimony filed in the case, PSO’s Derek Lewellen said customers who opt out of the smart meter would be provided with a digital meter that has the communications module removed. He said analog meters are no longer manufactured in the U.S.

“Additionally, the digital, non-communicating meters should address the perceived health and privacy expressed by some customers as they do not utilize RF signals to transmit information wirelessly like PSO’s standard AMI meter,” said Lewellen, PSO’s manager of smart grid and meter revenue operations. “In fact, as its name implies, the digital non-communicating meter does not communicate wirelessly at all. As such, this also mitigates privacy concerns, as this meter does not wirelessly communicate any customer electric consumption data.”

Under its earlier smart meter case, PSO said it could guarantee customer savings of at least $11 million in the next four years from the elimination of meter readers and fewer trucks called out for disconnects and reconnects.

Lewellen said PSO needs to charge monthly opt-out fees to recover the costs for reading meters at least once per month, as well as other salary, labor and transportation costs.

The commission’s public utility division recommended the commission approve the opt-out costs, but it said customers should be given an option to spread the up-front, one-time charge over at least three billing cycles.

Once PSO’s smart meter installation is complete, Oklahoma will have among the highest penetration rates for smart meters in the country. Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. completed its smart meter installation in 2013 and has more than 818,000 smart meters in Oklahoma and Arkansas.

The PSO hearing will resume at 10 a.m. Friday at the Corporation Commission in Oklahoma City.

 

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