Washington UTC: Utilities must offer an opt-out to residential customers

It is the commission’s responsibility to ensure regulated companies provide safe and reliable service to customers at reasonable rates”

On April 10, 2018, the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission issued a formal policy statement that residential customers must be offered an opt-out option. However, the UTC is not  allowing commercial customers to opt-out.

Discussed in the statement was an “opt-in” policy versus and “opt-out” policy, but the UTC stated that it gave weight to utility companies and the “benefits” of AMI in its decision to go with an opt-out. The statement hints that the opt-out may be a temporary measure.

The UTC views the customer wishing to opt-out as the cost causer, in line with utility company views, though it does offer a less harsh approach to assessing fees than some other states. However, it does not offer any alternative to those who are disabled by electromagnetic sensitivities or to those who want to retain their analog meters due to the health hazards of Smart Meters. There is only one blanket policy, and there is no “choice” for the disabled or for those wanting to protect their health, safety, or privacy.

Utilities have to come back to the UTC with their individual AMI project proposals and the tariff for an opt-out program. However, the UTC does allow utilities to seek exemption from any requirement in their policy statement including, presumably, the opt-out itself.

Note: The UTC promotes remote service disconnection by calling it “instant service reconnection“. There is quite a bit of “spin” language in the statement.

Proceeding U-180117

Policy and Interpretive Statement on Customer Choice for Advanced Meter Installation

Press release:
UTC: Utilities must offer customers an opt-out from advanced meter installation

Media Contact: (360) 664-1116 or media@utc.wa.gov
Docket Number: U-180117

UTC: Utilities must offer customers an opt-out from advanced meter installation
Advanced meter technologies are part of grid modernization efforts

OLYMPIA, Wash. – State regulators today issued a formal policy statement guiding Washington’s investor-owned electric and natural gas utilities in the rollout of advanced metering technologies, or “smart meters,” for residential customers.

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission determined companies will need to offer residential customers the ability to opt out of advanced meter installation to address customer concerns over the implementation of advanced meter technology.

The commission also stated its preference that companies allow opt-out customers to retain their existing meters, rather than requiring an immediate switch from analog to digital, non-communicative meters.

As the implementation of advanced meter technologies progresses in Washington, the commission will develop explicit requirements for protecting consumer information as well as necessary rule changes for company operations in upcoming workshops and rulemakings. This process will continue through 2018.

Recent federal legislation has supported the development of a modernized smart grid and has encouraged states and utilities to prepare for future energy demands. Advanced meters gather customer usage data through two-way communication between the meter and a utility and are critical to smart grid investment.

Advanced meters may provide automated customer outage detection, energy consumption alerts, and instant service reconnection, but advanced meter technology has sparked public concern over safety, privacy, cyber security, and customer billing.

In its policy statement the commission expresses its preference that companies minimize opt-out charges to remove any disincentive for customers to select their preferred meter option. 

The UTC policy statement also encourages utilities to develop billing practices that take into account low-income customer impacts among other customer concerns.

All opt-out programs must be approved by the commission prior to a utility installing any advanced meters in its Washington service territory.

In the policy statement, the commission also encourages utilities to communicate to customers the benefits of various opt-out meter options, such as replacing an analog meter with a non-communicating digital meter, to allow customers to choose the best option for their needs.

The policy statement is the result of several months of investigation by the UTC. The process began in February, when commission staff began accepting comments regarding customer choice for meter installation. Over the course of the investigation, the commission conducted a public workshop on customer choice policies for deployment of advanced meter technologies and took comments from the utilities and other stakeholders.

The UTC regulates the private, investor-owned electric utilities in Washington. It is the commission’s responsibility to ensure regulated companies provide safe and reliable service to customers at reasonable rates, while allowing them the opportunity to earn a fair profit.


UTC press release:

UTC statement:

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