More than two years into its smart meter rollout in North Carolina, Duke Energy is proposing (Docket No. E-7, Sub 1115) a one-time opt-out fee of $150 to customers who prefer either to stay with their legacy equipment or have the older one-way meters reinstalled.
In addition, those who opt out would pay $11.75 a month to cover the costs of manual meter reading.
Among its 3.2 million area ratepayers, a small but significant group of customers, the Raleigh News & Observer reports, has balked at the upgrade – fearing that radio frequency emitted by the meters causes headaches, dizziness, ringing of the ears, memory loss and “brain fog.”
That group is protesting against the meters, as well as any fees charged to avoid them. The North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) has received about 80 emails and letters in opposition to the suggested fees.
In addition, according to the news outlet, a number of advocacy groups have stepped in to intervene in the case – among them, the Maine Coalition to Stop Smart Meters – as well as a group of academics and physicians from Harvard Medical School, University at Albany and Washington State Department of Health.
“There’s absolutely no justification at all for these fees,” Duke customer Laura Combs told the News & Observer. “Show me justification why you should make a little more profit at the cost of people’s health.” Combs – who has a master’s degree in urban and regional planning – says she suffers from electromagnetic hypersensitivity induced by smart meters, cell phones, wireless routers, and Wi-Fi signals.
“They will be saving money through the implementation of smart meters,” Combs told the newspaper. “Their vehicle and personnel costs will be reduced, so why charge people when your costs are going down for the company?”
Duke already installed about 670,000 smart meters on customer premises and wants non-cooperating customers to cover the costs of being exempted from the program. Smart meters transmit usage
In its filing with the NCUC, Duke said it plans to replace current “drive-by” meters, which can be read from a passing vehicle, with smart meters that can be read from a central office. An analog meter, however, will have to be read manually by a meter reader.
“Customers requesting to [opt out] would be required to pay a set-up fee associated with the cost of installing and establishing meter reading routes, etc. using a non-communicating meter (or meter with all communications disabled),” Duke said in the filing. “ Additionally, the customer would pay a monthly fee associated with the manual cost of reading the meter. The attached rider outlines the costs to customers selecting this option.”
The utility further noted, “Up to this point, customers objecting to smart meters have been temporarily bypassed. Those customers continue to be served by meters where readings are obtained by computer from a vehicle, sometimes referred to as drive-by readings. As more smart meters are deployed, drive-by routes are being altered and discontinued, necessitating a longer-term option. Upon approval of this tariff, customers objecting to a smart meter in the future will be provided the option of [opting out] … .[or] … of having the smart meter installed.”
The North Carolina Utilities Commission will next decide on a schedule to review Duke’s proposal and also if the issue requires a public hearing.
“Duke is certainly willing to accommodate their customers’ desire to have a different meter,” James McLawhorn, who directs the Public Staff’s Electric Division, told the News & Observer. “The question is who should pay for it, and how much they should pay.”