Clallam PUD lowers cost of smart meter opt-out and adds self-read option

Clallam PUD lowers cost of smart meter opt-out and adds self-read option

Policy revised for those opposed to devices

Clallam County Public Utility District commissioners have revised a controversial smart meter policy to provide a self-read option — and a lower cost — for those concerned about the technology.

District commissioners on March 25 voted 3-0 to approve a revised residential meter policy that includes a self-read pilot program and lowers the opt-out fee from $30 to $15 per month.

Customers who chose to participate in the self-read program must report their electrical use to the district on the last four days of the month by email or online application.

The pilot program requires a one-time, $32.50 configuration fee and $251 deposit for customers who have good credit with the PUD. The deposit is $418 for customers with poor credit.

Participants who are unable to report their electrical use at the end of the month can make arrangements with the PUD two weeks in advance to avoid a $66 penalty.

The amended policy also lowers the cost of the “PUD read” opt-out option from $30 to $18 per month.

PUD read simply means a customer’s electric use is read by a PUD meter reader rather than a smart meter.

“Both self-read and PUD-read opt-out programs will be monitored and fees adjusted and approved by the board (on a) no less than an annual basis,” PUD Finance Manager-Treasurer Sean Worthington told district commissioners last week.

“The meter policy resolution that we’re presenting today has both options associated with it.”

Self-read customers will have their meters read by a PUD employee twice a year, Worthington said.

The district’s $3.75 million smart meter program has already been approved by PUD commissioners.

District officials have ordered the electric-use measuring devices for an initial launch with 3,500 units in the Dungeness area and 800 in Neah Bay.

Smart meters are digital meters that measure and record electricity usage data hourly and allow for remote two-way communications between utilities and the meters.

More than 78.9 million smart meters were installed in the U.S. by the end of 2017, PUD officials said. Grays Harbor, San Juan, Mason and Thurston counties are using the technology.

Smart meters broadcast electrical use with serial numbers via radio frequency, or RF. Rather than being read by a meter reader, the data is sent through the cloud to the utility.

Public opposition

The PUD board has been inundated with public opposition to smart meters in recent meetings and workshops.

Concerns have ranged from the health effects of long-term exposure to RF to privacy issues.

“I feel like a hostage without the Stockholm Syndrome,” Steve Schneider of Sequim told PUD commissioners last week.

“We first need to be given a choice if we want this system involved in our lives, and we should have been asked.

“The people are upset, but you know what, they’re at work or they’re in school,” Schneider said at the 1:30 p.m. meeting on March 25.

“They can’t come. So I think we should discuss this again at a future date and maybe ask for a little more input so we don’t feel like we’re being held hostage.”

At a March 11 meeting, PUD Board President Will Purser said the district had been talking about smart meters since 2014.

Ryan Williamson of Sequim said the opt-out options are inadequate because those who are sensitive to RF will be exposed to their neighbors’ smart meters.

“The whole neighborhood has it, so they inherently have to be subjugated to it,” Williamson said. “That doesn’t seem right to me.”

According to the American Cancer Society, the radio waves emitted by smart meters are similar to that of a typical cellphone or residential Wi-Fi router and send and receive short messages about 1 percent of the time, (tinyurl.com/PDN-SmartMeters).

Speaking on behalf of the Port Angeles Business Association, former Clallam County and Port of Port Angeles Commissioner Jim McEntire said smart meters will save the district $7 million in operating costs over the next 15 years.

“You are fulfilling your duty and your obligation to your customers to try to be as efficient as you can be in your operational costs so that we pay not as much as we otherwise would,” McEntire told Commissioners David Anderson, Jim Waddell and Purser.

“The discussion that you’ve had over the last several meetings about lowering the cost in your opt-out policy I think is a good one. I would urge that you adopt that policy at your earliest opportunity, as in today.

“But the main takeaway, the main thing that I want to communicate to you today is the sincere appreciation of the PABA’s (Port Angeles Business Association) members of you keeping your costs as low as they can be,” McEntire said.

PUD officials estimated that 150 customers would participate in the self-read pilot program.

Crews will install 22,000 smart-meters on homes and businesses countywide from 2019 to 2023.

The five-year project will replace 67 percent of the PUD’s meters with two-way meters. The remaining third 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 Assistant Manager John Purvis has said the one-way meters can be replaced after 2023.

Before voting to approve the amended policy, Waddell encouraged the audience to share ideas on ways to improve the smart meter program.

“Any new technology like this is going to have pluses and minuses,” Waddell said.

“We know that. But we’re trying to save money for all the customers. That’s what we’re trying to do here.”

A statement was added to the policy to “make it explicit in our policy that we’re going to annually evaluate the technical operation and financial performance of this entire meter strategy and the associated project,” Waddell said.

“And so what that means is we’re going to be looking at cost, we’ll be looking at all the technical issues, everything like that, as we implement this first phase of meters that are already on the way,” he added.

“We put that in there to help you hold us accountable in terms of reviewing this as we go along and making sure that our costs are accurate.”

For information about Clallam County PUD, visit www.clallampud.net.

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