2012-12-06 / Front Page

Price of saying no to smart meters could go up

UTILITY BILLS
By Sylvie Belmond

Customers of Southern California Edison and other public utilities could see higher bills in the coming months if they continue to block smart meter installations at their homes.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is considering a request by the utility company to increase the fees they charge customers who choose to keep their old analog meters.

This summer, Edison installed its SmartConnect meters at homes and businesses throughout the Conejo Valley, as well as in Camarillo, Moorpark and Simi Valley. The automated meters use wireless technology to transmit readings to the utility company, negating the need for meter readers.

Despite promises of energy savings and greater customer control, some households have chosen to keep their old meters due to concerns about false readings, invasion of privacy and potential health risks associated with longterm exposure to the transmitters.

Last February the public utility commission approved an initial fee of $75 with a monthly charge of $10 for utility customers who wanted to keep their analog meters.

The opt-out fee for ratepayers enrolled in the commission’s low-income program is $10 initially and $5 a month thereafter.

Terrie Prosper, spokesperson for the commission, said the current prices are temporary and subject to adjustment in May 2013 after the commission looks at the actual costs of offering the option.

Edison recently advised its ratepayers that it is seeking approval from the commission to raise opt-out rates. The company estimates it would need to charge $98 for the initial fee and $24 a month thereafter to recoup costs of maintaining an analog meter system estimated to cost about $21 million over the 2012-14 period.

Monthly fees for low-income residents would go from $5 to $19, with a $78 initial charge.

SCE spokesperson David Song said 18,000 out of 4.9 million customers from Santa Barbara to Central Valley and portions of L.A. County had chosen to keep their old meters.

“We want an option for our customers if they so choose, and by no means is the opt-out fee a punitive measure. But there are true costs to maintaining the old meters,” Song said.

The CPUC will host a series of public hearings concerning the proposed fee increase.

The hearings will take place Fri., Dec. 14 at 3 p.m. in Santa Barbara; Mon., Dec. 17 at 6 p.m. in Los Angeles; and Tues., Dec. 18 at 6 p.m. in San Clemente.

Newbury Park resident Sophia Saraicescu urges people to participate in the discussion, either in writing or in person.

“If enough people protest the California Public Utilities Commission does listen, and they work for us,” said Saraicescu, who wrote a lengthy letter to the utilities commission opposing the increase.

Saraicescu said she kept her analog meter because the new smart meters appear to be unreliable and were subject to several lawsuits nationwide.

“They’ve never been able to say that the meters were really good, and I don’t see why I should pay for them while they figure it out. Not every product is without defect,” said Saraicescu, adding that the cost to read the meters was already built into utility bills and that the new fees would generate more profits for Edison.

Utility companies are pushing for the new meters because it will allow them to charge more for peakhour usage, Saraicescu said.

She is not the only one who is concerned about the smart meters. More than 30 local residents recently told the Acorn they believe they paid for more electricity than they actually used after the new devices were installed.

Smart meters are becoming the new standard in the industry.

“For us to maintain an old secondary system comes with a cost, and we don’t think it’s fair for every customer to subsidize costs of people who want to opt out,” Song said.

The CPUC will decide what utility companies can charge for the opt-out fees.

“What’s fair depends on your perspective and what side you’re on,” Song said.

The CPUC recently approved a 5 percent rate increase for all Edison ratepayers. The electric company had requested an increase of 16.6 percent.

The date the increase will take e ffect has not been announced.

Local water companies also use smart meters.

Southern California Gas Company has not installed the meters, but is keeping an eye on the opt-out proceedings.

OPT-OUT FEES GOING UP?

Southern California Edison
Opt-Out Fees
Current:
$75 initial fee
$10 monthly
Proposed:
$98 initial fee
$24 monthly

Return to top