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ComEd floats $25 monthly fee for smart-meter refusers

Posted by Bob on 10/8/2013 to "Smart" Meters

So you don't want that smart meter? It may cost you.

Illinois-based Commonwealth Edison Co. is proposing to allow customers to opt out of the smart meter program, but they'll have to pay $25 extra per month on their electric bills.

The proposal is subject to approval by the Illinois Commerce Commission, which Oct. 2 rejected ComEd's request to approve the policy right away but agreed to consider it after holding hearings.

ComEd is just starting the process of installing the digital electric meters throughout its northern Illinois service territory. The 2011 Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act, enacted over Gov. Pat Quinn's veto, handed the utility annual rate hikes over a decade in return for a $2.6 billion initiative to modernize its local grid and install smart meters systemwide.

The law didn't explicitly address what happens when customers refuse the new meters. Much of the financial rationale supporting their use is based on eliminating the job of the meter reader. Smart meters allow the utility to remotely access customers' usage.

MEANT TO COVER COSTS

The $25 monthly fee is meant to cover the cost of having an employee read holdout customers' old-fashioned meters.

The $25 charge reflects “costs associated with manually reading a meter,” ComEd said in a statement. “This is meant to be a transitional process. It is our goal for all customers to receive the benefits of smart meters.”

Consumer advocates are onboard.

David Kolata, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, said the $25 monthly fee was arrived at after a series of meetings. It's generally in line with what other investor-owned utilities around the country have charged customers who refuse the meters, he said.

“We think $25 is within the realm of reason,” he said. “I don't think you want to socialize these costs.”

In other jurisdictions CUB has reviewed, monthly fees ranged from about $15 to as high as $40. None of them had decided to have all ratepayers cover the meter-reading costs for customers who opted out.

He added, “We don't think there's a reason for customers to opt out.”

METER FIRES

Three meter fires at homes after ComEd had installed smart meters during a pilot program gave some pause. One of the homeowners frightened by the fire at her home insisted afterward on getting an analog meter.

The ICC determined that the fires were caused by faulty connections within the apparatuses containing the meters. ComEd has overhauled its training procedures for meter installers to help them recognize when connections might be faulty and to have them repaired before installing the new meters.

In west suburban Naperville, which has its own municipal electric utility, a group has vocally opposed the city's move to install smart meters.

At a bench session Oct. 2, ICC Chairman Doug Scott questioned whether the commission even had the authority under the law to allow customers to opt out, according to a report by SNL Financial, which was first to report the news of the proposed $25 fee. ICC staffers also said they hadn't had enough time to determine whether the fee was appropriate in light of ComEd's costs.

The commission gave itself until Feb. 16 to rule on the issue.
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