Utilities want to charge monthly fee to refuse ‘smart meter’

Proposals in front of state regulators would allow electric companies to charge as much as $41 a month to customers who decide they don’t want a “smart meter” attached to their home.

Dayton Power & Light and Ohio Edison have not yet deployed “smart meters” in this area, but other utility companies throughout the state have submitted plans to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio on costs they want to impose.

Duke Energy, which serves 690,000 customers in southwest Ohio, including the communities of Springboro and Franklin, has asked for a one time charge of $1,073 to take out the meter for a homeowner and an additional monthly fee of $40.63. AEP Ohio, which serves most of central Ohio, is asking for a monthly fee of $31.80.

Some people have expressed privacy concerns about the meters, worried that the technology will reveal details about their households. The devices use cellular and radio wave communication to transmit energy usage remotely, instead of having meter readers go door-to- door.

Utilities have said the concerns are unwarranted and the information is kept confidential in the same way that bills are kept private. They say the meters allow a close analysis of household and business energy consumption, can pinpoint outages, and help a utility restore power more easily.

At this point, the request for additional fees is in a holding pattern as regulators consider the proposal for charges, according to Sally Thelan of Duke Energy.

Thelan said the additional charges cover the separate billing system and additional manpower that will have to be maintained to keep two systems up and running.

“Duke Energy is at the tail end of its deployment program. It’s .1 percent, a handful of people, that are not embracing this tech. We are getting little push back from the general public,” Thelan said.

Websites like www.stopsmartmeters.com, emfsatetynetwork.com, and refusesmartmeters.com state that the meters cause unhealthy side effects, raise prices and are a violation of privacy. The sites call on consumers to post signs in their yards stating “smart meter free zone.”

“It’s a combination of unknown technology and misinformation. If we have concerned customers we reach out directly to them to clear up confusion,” Thelan said.

When the PUCO first considered the opt-out option in Oct0ber 2013, DP&L said it was against the proposal.

“DP&L strongly objects to the proposed rules requiring an opt-out program for advanced meter installations,” the utility told PUCO, saying meters are used “for safety purposes, meter access issues, tamper detection or efficiency purposes. A customer should not be able to determine what type of meter they require at their premises.”

This newspaper spoke to residents in Trenton and Franklin, where smart meters have already been deployed, and many of the homeowners were unaware that the devices had already been installed on their homes.

“I would like to call Duke and find out why they installed this new meter in my house without telling me. There could have been damages that they could have done behind the wall without me even knowing. They put extra holes in the house. I just don’t appreciate that,” said Jeff Conley of Franklin.

Several attempts are made to make consumers aware of the meter install, said Thelan.

“Six weeks prior we send out a letter, then there are door hangers, post cards, and phone calls, and then another letter two weeks ahead of the installation. I’ve never heard of customers not knowing they have a smart meter,” Thelan said.

AEP-Ohio has installed 110,000 smart meters in central Ohio. Ohio Edison First Energy has deployed 34,000 in the Cleveland area.

DP&L is still considering its plans for “smart meters.”

“Dayton Power and Light continues to monitor and track all information on challenges associated with the implementation of those technologies. We are continuing to monitor the progress of other investor-owned utilities throughout the state of Ohio on their smart grid projects,” DP&L director of metering services Kathy Storm said.

Steve Bennish contributed to this story.