The California Public Utilities Commission, after approving a smart meter opt-out plan for Pacific Gas and Electric, directed the state’s other power utilities to submit their own plans. Southern California Edison submitted a proposal, which is different in a number of respects.
The CPUC asked SCE to provide information on all opt-out alternatives, not just its proposed alternative. A CPUC decision on those proposals is expected within the next several weeks.
The CPUC ordered PG&E to allow opt-out customers who already have smart meters to replace them with analog meters. For customers who have not been upgraded to a smart meter, PG&E must allow them to retain the analog meter. Both options require an upfront fee of $75 and a $10 monthly maintenance fee in addition to charges for electrical usage.
Since SCE has already installed smart meters in a majority of its service areas, it proposes only one opt-out alternative. For customers who object to smart meters for concerns over health or privacy, SCE proposes to use a “noncommunicating radio-off meter option.” With that option the smart meter would remain in place and its radio-transmission functions would be turned off at the meter site. SCE’s filing suggests that SCE personnel would perform a monthly interval manual meter read.
Ken Devore, director of SCE’s SmartConnect program, stated that less than a fraction of one percent of customers with existing smart meters have requested opting out.
SCE’s proposal makes no provision for customers to retain analog meters or have existing smart meters replaced with analogs. SCE uses, as justification for this bare bones approach, the CPUC’s recommendation that any opt-out plan should be “technically feasible, offered at reasonable cost to customers, and not impede the state’s goals to deploy a Smart Grid.”
SCE notes in its proposal that it will continue to evaluate “lower cost options for opt-out program participants” and reserves the right to amend its submission prior to final adjudication. It also notes that a dual system with some smart meters and some analogs would require SCE to retain elements of its previous data gathering processes and billing systems, and that would be cost-ineffective.
SCE also said that costs of restoration of smart meter functionality, once an opt-out customer terminates service, would have to be part of any approved plan. Specifically, their proposal states, “For customers that exit the opt-out program, a field visit and a meter exchange will be required at additional cost to the customer.” PG&E also requested that opt-out customers be charged to restore that functionality once they terminate service, but the CPUC did not approve that request.
SCE submitted cost analyses for all alternatives it was directed to review (“radio-out”, analog meters, and wired smart meters) but concluded that the “radio-off” proposal, with the subsequent customer charge to restore smart meter functionality, was the only feasible one.
Ultimately, whatever plan the CPUC directs SCE to adopt, all SCE customers will likely see costs of smart meter installation and opt-outs reflected in their bills. Projected costs to install the estimated $1.6 billion grid already show up in a 1.6 percent increase in electrical rates, which are not listed as separate line items on customer bills. The 1.6 percent increase is only good through end of 2012.
Further costs for opting out, and actual costs for grid installation and maintenance, may show up on customer bills in 2013, after the CPUC reviews expenditures that SCE must submit.