Smart meter “Delay” tag in Pine Cove. Photo courtesy of Annamarie Padula

After the California Public Utilities Commission approved an opt-out plan for Pacific Gas & Electric, customers who did not want smart meters, the state’s other utilities, including Southern California Edison, submitted cost proposals for providing their own opt-out plans.

Ken Devore, director of SCE’s SmartConnect program, said he expects the plan the CPUC is likely to approve for SCE would be similar to that approved for PG&E. The PG&E plan requires customers who already have a smart meter and want it replaced by an analog meter, as well as those who want to retain an existing analog meter, to be charged a $75 up-front fee as well as a monthly surcharge of $10 in the initial phase of the opt-out program. These fees are in addition to regular charges for electrical usage. Low-income residents enrolled in the California Alternate Rates for Energy or CARE program would pay $10 up front and a $5 monthly surcharge.

Devore expects the SCE opt-out plan to be approved in late March or early April. In the meantime, any SCE customer who has not already had a smart meter installed can request a delay by calling (800) 810-2369.

The opt-out fees are supposed to cover the costs of installing analog meters at homes that already have smart meters, as well as the additional costs of deploying personnel to read analog meters each month. The CPUC decision states that the approved fees are in place until actual costs are determined by the utility, at which point they could be raised or lowered, with CPUC approval.

SCE’s estimated cost to install smart meters throughout its network is $1.6 billion, a figure authorized by the CPUC. Installation costs are to be funded by an approximate 1.6-percent increase in customer rates “during the installation [or rollout] timeframe,” according to information published on the SCE website. Devore said this initial period should continue through the end of 2012. After that, actual costs will be submitted to CPUC as part of SCE’s rate case, with further customer fees to be determined at that time. The smart meter rollout costs do not show as separate line items on customer bills, but are rather folded into electricity rates.

Devore offered that structuring the second phase of smart meter opt-out costs and provisions may include consideration of community opt-outs. Leading up to CPUC’s decision for PG&E’s plan, a number of counties and municipalities passed legislation opposing smart meter installation, citing concerns over health and privacy issues.

Devore also noted, in response to a question from an audience member, that for some utility customers, with health concerns over smart meter electromagnetic waves, there may be no help, even through opt-out provisions. Apartment dwellers, where many smart meters are banked and networked, may get little solace from an individual apartment opt-out since remaining meters would be numerous and in close proximity. Workers in commercial buildings where many smart meters are also installed in banks of networks may be unable to avoid alleged effects from exposure.

“They might bring all these issues into consideration during the second phase,” said Devore. “And ultimately it will have to be decided who bears the cost.”

He reassured SCE customers that any request for being put on a delay list, for any reason or for no reason, would be promptly honored with no coercion. But, once the CPUC approves SCE’s opt-out plan, customers on a delay list will have to quickly make choices about being part of the approved opt-out plan with its consequent charges.

SCE has already installed 4 million smart meters, with a small fraction of 1 percent of customers in those areas requesting smart meter installation delay. Full SCE installation in the remaining North Coast and San Joaquin Valley areas will be completed by the end of this year.

See for SCE smart meter information and call (800) 810-2369 to be placed on a delay list.