AEP must prove ‘smart meters’ save customers money before charging to ‘opt out’

AEP must prove ‘smart meters’ save customers money before charging to ‘opt out’

 

AEP Ohio began installing the advanced meters in 2009.

By Dan Gearino The Columbus Dispatch  •  Wednesday April 27, 2016 4:39 PM
American Electric Power must demonstrate the financial benefits of so-called “smart meters” before it can begin charging a fee of $24 per month to customers who opt out of using them, Ohio utility regulators ruled today.

The unanimous decision is on an application filed in June 2014, one that had been opposed by consumer advocates.

Rather than accept the proposal as written, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio added some significant conditions.

“We find that customers should not have to pay for advanced meter opt-out service if they are not actually receiving a reduction in costs resulting from the operational efficiencies created by AEP Ohio’s gridSMART Program,” the panel said in the decision.

The case deals with a new generation of electricity meters, gradually being installed in AEP Ohio territory, which allow data to be shared between consumers and the utility. Some people have privacy concerns about the devices and say want to stick with a traditional meters.

One of the financial benefits of the meters is that AEP no longer needs to do in-person readings. However, if someone refuses to use the smart meters, the company will need to make a trip to read the meter. AEP said the opt-out will lead to a one-time cost per household of $43 and then a monthly cost of $31.80.

Following negotiations with the PUCO staff in early 2015, AEP signed onto a proposed settlement that reduces the monthly charge to $24. The one-time fee remained $43. The PUCO governing board can accept, reject or modify the recommendations of its staff.

The charges had been opposed by the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel and Ohio Partners for Affordable Energy for a variety of reasons.

For now, there is no cost to opt out. Later on, after AEP has done additional filings designed to show that consumers receive financial benefits from the meters, the utility can begin charging the fees. This step will require an additional vote by the PUCO.

AEP Ohio began installing the advanced meters with a test project in 2009, covering about 110,000 customers. In 2013, the company applied to expand the program, called gridSMART, to an additional 900,000 houses in the state. That case is awaiting a decision, and its ruling will help to determine the timetable for the start of the opt-out charge.

Parties in case did not have immediate comments.

dgearino@dispatch.com

@dangearino

http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/business/2016/04/27/aep-must-prove-smart-meters-save-customers-money-before-charging-to-opt-out.html#

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