Clallam PUD tables proposal for a lower opt-out fee on smart meters

After hearing more concerns about smart meters, Clallam County Public Utility District commissioners tabled a proposal to lower opt-out fees from $30 to $18 a month.

Commissioners on March 11 also directed staff to pursue a “self-read” pilot program that would allow customers who eschew smart meters to record their electric use and report it to the district.

The five-year, $3.75 million smart meter program has already been approved by the PUD board.

District officials have ordered the electric-use measuring devices, which emit low-level electromagnetic radiation, for an initial installation this year that will include 3,500 units in the Dungeness area and 800 in Neah Bay, PUD Assistant Manager John Purvis said.

To help staff establish costs for the self-read pilot project, the three commissioners agreed by consensus to estimate that 100 to 200 customers would participate.

Purvis said the initial monthly cost for the self-read opt-out option would be about $16.

“If we get enough participation and enough interest, we can modify that and potentially bring it well under that,” Purvis told commissioners.

“You’ve got to start collecting real information to have a solid analysis,” he added. “Everything’s a best estimate now.”

The existing, $30-per-month opt-out option, or “PUD read,” is for customers whose electric use is read by a PUD meter reader rather a smart meter.

PUD commissioners will consider amending the existing residential meter policy and establishing the self-read pilot project in a future meeting, district spokeswoman Nicole Clark said last week.

“The current opt-out is $30 a month as amended in 2014,” Purvis said in a well-attended meeting at the district headquarters in Carlsborg.

“The resolution before the board is $18 a month. It allows for an analog meter for an additional $5.40 a month, with PUD reads every other month.”

The resolution, which failed to gain a motion for approval on March 11, also clarifies that customers with multiple meters at one service address under the same name would be charged one fee.

“People pay 30 bucks now,” PUD board President Will Purser said of the current opt-out program.

“I think they would welcome paying $18.”

“Unacceptable,” a woman shouted from the back of the meeting room.

The PUD board has been flooded with anti-smart meter testimony in recent meetings and workshops.

“My greatest concern is for the patients and former patients that have very sensitive neurological systems,” said Richard Marschall during the public comment period on March 11. Marschall is a former naturopath whose license was revoked in 2014 and who says on his website that he provides wellness counseling.

“You don’t seem to care about that,” he said. “You must be aware that there are people that are sensitive to this and that’s very frustrating.”

Marschall and others said the opt-out fee is onerous and discriminatory to those with medical issues.

Later in the meeting, PUD General Manager Doug Nass said the health concerns raised by anti-smart meter speakers have not been corroborated by the district.

“We really need to get to the end of this discussion,” Purser said.

“We’ve been talking about it since 2014.”

The PUD will install 22,000 smart-meters on homes and businesses from 2019 to 2023. Final installations will occur in the unincorporated areas around the city of Port Angeles, which operates its own electric utility.

The project will replace 67 percent of the PUD’s meters with two-way meters.

The remaining 12,000 meters are one-way RF devices that also emit electromagnetic radiation but are read by “drive-by” meter readers without PUD employees exiting their vehicles, PUD officials have said.

The one-way meters can be replaced after 2023, Purvis has said.

In 2014, the city of Port Angeles approved a $760,000 settlement with Atlanta, Ga.-based Mueller Systems over software issues and project delays in an advanced-metering-infrastructure (AMI) smart-meter system that was blasted by opponents citing health concerns.

City officials said health concerns had nothing to do with the settlement.

Purvis said it would take “at least a couple of months” to determine the level of participation and true costs of the self-read opt-out program.

“We’re going to identify and make course corrections as needed and validate the installation over time,” Purser said.

“That’s the best staff can do.”

Rob Ollikainen is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. He can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

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