Friday, June 19, 2015

Tulsa World Defends Smart Meters

By ROD WALTON, World Business Editor -- Posted: Thursday, June 11,
2015 12:00 am
Customers who want to opt out of AEP-PSOʼs smart-meter installation will be able to do so — but it comes with a price tag that may seem hefty to some. So far, about 700 customers have informed the electricity provider that they do not want the meters. AEP-PSO already has filed a request with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission on how to fund exceptions to the rollout, and soon will be sending those customers a letter informing them of likely extra charges. 
  "Once that charge has been established, then weʼll communicate with them again" about the cost of opting out, AEP-PSO spokesman Stan Whiteford said. The utility is asking the Corporation Commission to approve two costs associated with the smart-meter opt-out. One is a proposed one-time fee of $183 for replacing the existing meter, while AEP-PSO also wants to add a $28 monthly fee above the current rate.

Those costs would cover the expense of replacing the meter and paying for a reader to drive out to those isolated homes, Whiteford noted. "All of those things go into that," he said of the reasons for the additional costs.
A percentage of AEP-PSOʼs customers have objected to the smart-meter installation, which so far has reached 200,000 customers or nearly 40 percent of the utilityʼs system. Smart meters are digital devices which can communicate with AEP-PSOʼs computer system to constantly record usage and other factors.
  Opponents bring up several objections, from worries about information hacking of the wireless systems to health concerns about radiation emissions. Owasso resident Joe Esposito has been a longtime foe of the smart meters for the second reason.
  And Wednesday Esposito said he is not reassured by AEP-PSOʼs opt-out plan. "Itʼs not going to do anybody any good," he said. "Iʼm not talking about opt outs (by individuals); youʼre going to be radiated from nine of your neighbors." Esposito said numerous studies — both individual and governmental — warning of the radiation danger from the smart-meter signals. AEP-PSO cited other reports indicating the radiation is of such a low level as to not be harmful.
Esposito said that AEP-PSO is not informing people about the real concerns. He also criticized the utility, saying it did not originally let customers know that they could opt out of the smart meter installation. "Theyʼve been slamming meters on as fast as they can," Esposito said.
  AEP-PSO began its system-wide rollout during late 2014 in southeastern Oklahoma. The installations started in the Tulsa district earlier this year and will extend to other sections by 2016.  Utility spokesman Whiteford said the opt-outs are being handled several ways:
  AEP-PSO will not put a smart meter on those sites which opt out and eventually will replace the old analog meter with a non-communicating digital meter. "Itʼs a smart meter with the radio turned off," he said. AEP-PSO is hoping to get a ruling from OCC on the opt-out and costs by late summer, Whiteford added. The Corporation Commission previously approved a billing increase of about $3.11 per month per customer for the smart-meter installation.
  That decision came relatively late: in fact, close to six months after AEP-PSO  already had started charging for the installation costs. The utility could do that because the commission did not rule within 180 days of the original filing.  Whiteford does not anticipate the opt-out case taking so long.  "Itʼs not like a rate case," he said. "Itʼs a pretty narrow thing."
  Even though 700 customers already have asked for opt-outs, previous studies indicate that the number could go much lower once they realize there is a cost associated with it. Whiteford said that a similar plan in Texas yielded only 100 or so customers opting-out once they had to pay for it.
  Sean Voskuhl, state director for retiree advocate AARP Oklahoma, warned that the "devil is in the details" on the opt-out. "If the costs are too prohibitive then consumers will not be able to afford to opt out," Voskuhl said in a emailed response to the Tulsa World. "I think an argument could be made that there shouldnʼt be any costs associated with opting out since PSO is already recovering costs from customers for smart meters and they will continually employ meter readers."

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