Pressured by public concerns over health and privacy issues, the California Public Utilities Commission previously required state public electricity providers to offer Smart Meter opt-out provisions to its customers. Now the utilities are proposing to raise the opt-out charges.

In its preliminary findings issued in April of this year, the CPUC set interim fees for opting out. Those fees will be in effect until next spring, after which the CPUC could revise them after reviewing utilities’ actual expenses and costs for implementing the opt-out provisions.

The state’s major utilities are requesting the CPUC grant higher opt-out charges for customers. The interim fees set in April by the CPUC were $75 to opt-out and $10 monthly, and for lower income customers, $10 to opt-out and $5 monthly. After reviewing its costs for facilitating opt-outs, SCE submitted new fee proposals to the CPUC of $98 for most customers with a $24 monthly surcharge, according to SCE spokesman David Song. For lower income customers, SCE suggested $78 to opt-out and a $19 monthly surcharge. “Of course that’s not set,” said Song. “The ball is in CPUC’s court.”

Smart Meters read and record electrical usage and then transmit that information via electromagnetic waves to the utility. Electrical providers say this is more efficient, gives customers Internet electrical usage monitoring tools, and saves on customer bills by obviating the need for meter readers.

Opponents cite alleged dangers to health by transmission of electromagnetic waves through meters installed directly on a residence or aggregated together in banks in apartment and business complexes. They also cite privacy concerns that the meters constitute an unwarranted intrusion into customers private lives based on how the meters can monitor individuals’ electrical usage 24 hours a day.

In a series of five public comment meetings held throughout the mostly southern parts of the state (Bakersfield, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Clemente and Santa Rosa), CPUC officials received public input on the Smart Meter issues. The sessions allow Southern California Edison (SCE) and Southern California Gas Co. customers to voice opposition to both the program and its fees. Public hearings began Dec. 13 in Bakersfield and concluded Dec. 20 in Santa Rosa.

The question of whether a customer who has already had a Smart Meter installed could have it replace with an older analog meter (what SCE calls a Legacy Meter) is still an open question said Song.” All of these questions are still in CPUC proceedings.”