PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County Public Utility District officials are considering an “opt out” policy that would offer customers the option of changing out their current RF transmitting meter for an analog model.
The PUD’s Citizen Advisory Board (CAB) was tasked six months ago with developing a model policy for the three commissioners to review. The CAB members were not united in their decision and offered opposing viewpoints.
The CAB majority members recommended policy language that focused on replacement with a fee.
The statement would say that the PUD would offer a non-transmitting meter to single-phase ratepayers who wish to opt out of their current RF transmitting meter.
Until the PUD calculates the actual cost, a $5 monthly fee would be assessed. The actual cost would then be applied. If the ratepayer requests a subsequent meter change, charges to do so will be assessed.
A minority report, written by CAB members Sebastian Eggert and Jessica Dillon, said the policy doesn’t address some of the public’s concerns, including those from the Smart Meters Objectors Group (SMOG) and the thousand signatures collected from customers/owners.
The report said that the policy should say specifically that the “PUD will offer analog and digital non-transmitting meters” and that the analog meters should be offered at no cost.
Eggert told commissioners he suggested that there be no fee for reading meters or for selecting an alternative metering system because of fairness.
He said he diverted from the majority opinion because of the removal of the word “analog” from the description of the meters to be offered.
“It’s of critical importance to a great number of the citizens of the county that analogs, or electromechanical meters, will be among the choices that someone choosing an alternate metering system would be able to have and those reasons are many,” Eggert said.
Tracy McCallum, a member of SMOG, told the commissioners that the opt-out fee was unfair and discriminates against one subset of customers-owners while subsidizing others.
“Our goal in SMOG is to support a program that reduces the burden of costs to everyone involved — the customer and utility — and respects the customers’ fair choice to opt out of a meter that imposes a hardship for them in health security and safety, that was installed without their knowledge or agreement.
“We are asking that analog be added to the opt-out meter choice, to remove the customer cost of opting out and have a brainstorming workshop to explore how the costs of an opt-out program can be used for everyone.”
Commissioner Ken Collins said he was disappointed that more people were not asked their opinions, especially staff members.
“The process should have involved getting more input from members of the community and also staff were not interviewed,” Collins said. “That was missing an important part that should have been a piece of the process.
“This is an issue that people feel very passionately about and it’s easy to ride on one’s passions but there are certain concrete things that need to to be established,” he continued. “I think there was a bit of a rush to judgment where it would have been useful to gather information.”
Collins asked if there was a comparison with other PUDs and their reasons.
“My feeling is that we need to take a couple steps back and involve the staff, look at the areas where there is valuable data to be had and integrate into the process.”
According to PUD Spokesperson Will O’Donnell, the total number of residential and commercial meter customers in Jefferson County is 19,500 and of those, approximately 3,000 are read by PUD staff.
The rest are read by Landis & Gyr which is paid $300,000 per year, he said.
O’Donnell said all of the current meters are the broadcasting model type that transmits a signal to a collector where the data is read. All analog meters were retrofitted by a module by Puget Sound Energy years ago.
The commissioners plan to conduct a special community input meeting on the meter opt-out program in August, with a specific date yet to be determined.
Jefferson County Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].