Oregon county bans Smart Meter opt-out fees; state utility commission takes legal action

From KDRV.com

Josephine County Commissioners adopt Smart Meter ordinance

By Emma Balkenbush
October 31, 2018

VIDEO at link below

The Josephine County Utility Regulation Ordinance is meant to stop public utility companies like Pacific Power from charging a monthly fee to those who want to opt out of smart meters.

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — The Josephine County Board of Commissioners adopted ordinance 2018-006 Wednesday. You can click here  to read the ordinance in full.

The Josephine County Utility Regulation Ordinance is meant to stop public utility companies like Pacific Power from charging a monthly fee to those who want to opt out of smart meters.

Chairman of the Board Dan DeYoung said there was a lot of concern about whether or not people had options when Pacific Power transitioned to smart meters.

“We felt as a board that there were no other choices given,” DeYoung said.

The ordinance would require utility companies to provide alternative methods of reporting for customers who don’t want the smart meters.

It would require the utility company to remove a smart meter that a customer already has installed and replace it with a non-radio frequency meter within 30 days after receiving the demand.

Scott Bolton, Senior Vice President of Pacific Power, said the company cannot comply with the ordinance because that would put it out of compliance with the Public Utility Commission.

“I think by developing an ordinance, which is a local law that may or may not be legal with how the state regulates utilities, that will create more confusion and so it will be difficult to see exactly where we go from here,” Bolton said.

The legislation is one-of-a-kind. Bolton said Josephine County is the only one adopting an ordinance like this one.

“This is unique, I think most counties recognize that they don’t regulate the rates of utilities,” Bolton said.

DeYoung said the Commission does not want to regulate the company’s rates.

“That’s one of the things that the power company was really strict about, and we had conversations back and forth. Their opposition to what we are doing is that we don’t have the authority to set the rates, that’s set by the Oregon Public Utility Commission, we get that,” DeYoung said.

Bolton said Pacific Power is already working on making more options available for customers who don’t want the smart meters.

“Part of what determines what works and what the costs will be is simply getting the technology deployed and knowing how many opt-outs we’re dealing with across the state,” Bolton said.

The ordinance goes into effect in three months.


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Oregon PUC to consult with Ccurt over Josephine County Smart Meter ordinance

The Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) has asked a Marion County court to ‘confirm its exclusive authority to set customer rates’ in response to Josephine County’s recent smart meter ordinance.

by Jamie Parfit

Nov. 29, 2018

SALEM, Ore. — In the face of Josephine County’s recently ratified smart meter ordinance, the Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) said on Friday that it has asked a Marion County court to weigh in on the dispute.

“[The PUC] asked a Marion County court to confirm its exclusive authority to set customer rates for investor-owned electric utilities and to prevent a Josephine County ordinance from limiting Pacific Power’s ability to charge PUC-approved fees related to advanced meter installation within the county,” the Commission said in a statement.

The County adopted their ordinance at the end of October, stipulating that they would prohibit all opt-out fees leveled by Pacific Power on customers that refuse to receive the new smart meter and instead insist on keeping a hand-read meter.

Pacific Power argued that the County did not have the authority to set fees or to set them aside, appealing to the PUC for help. Since the PUC is typically in charge of approving rates and fees, they quickly threatened legal action against the County.

“This is not our preferred course of action,” said Megan Decker, PUC chair. “But we need to be clear with customers and other jurisdictions that Oregon’s legal structure requires Pacific Power to charge rates set by the PUC. Our exclusive authority and obligation to set nondiscriminatory rates across a utility’s service territory prevents the ability of one jurisdiction from transferring the cost of its local priorities to other communities.”

But earlier this month, Josephine County responded that they would stand by their ordinance.

“Choice and local control are highly valued in Oregon. Local governments are free to raise revenues to fund local priorities, including expanding access to manually read meters. They can ask local residents to provide financial support to customers who cannot afford the opt-out charge,” said Decker. “What local governments cannot do is require Pacific Power to charge customers different rates for electric service in their jurisdictions.”

In Southern Oregon, Pacific Power currently charges a $36 per-month opt-out fee for customers who refuse the upgrade to a smart reader. While Josephine County has argued that the opt-out fee method leaves their residents with no choice, the PUC disagrees.

“The customer’s choice to have a manually read meter has a cost,” said Decker. “The questions are what is the cost and who pays for it?”


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