PSO plan to hike smart meter fees draws protest

At a hearing before the Corporation Commission last week, Tulsa citizens voiced their disagreement with PSO plans to charge exorbitant fees for customers who don’t want smart meters installed at their homes.

Tulsans told about unanswered concerns about the health aspects of the meters, the potential for invasion of privacy in their homes and the possible danger of smart meters versus analogue meters that have been used safely for electricity for decades in Oklahoma.

PSO is asking the Corporation Commission to penalize customers who don’t want smart meters by charging a one-time opt-out fee of $183.00 and $336.00 a year perpetual surcharge on top of the regular electricity bill.

PSO is in the process of trying to install more than 520,000 smart meters this year in Tulsa and Northeast Oklahoma. After 2016, PSO wants to change the opt-out fee to $261.00.

PSO argues that the smart meters will save money and that there are added costs to customers who don’t want one. The fee structure they are requesting is higher than what most other utilities across the country charge.

Administrative Law Judge Ben Jackson  presided and will give a report and recommendation to the Corporation Commission, which will decide whether to allow the high fee structure.

Citizens opposing mandatory smart meters said PSO hasn’t publicized that it can turn on the meters remotely without the customer’s knowledge or consent. The smart meters require an FCC license and their transmitter pulse every 15-20 seconds – a real health problem for people sensitive to radiation transmissions.

Assistant Attorney General Jerry Sanger asked PSO’s witnesses about how it came up with the charges and if it reviewed similar charges in other states. PSO’s Derek Lewellen, who manages smart meter operations, said PSO’s situation was unique.

Sanger said utilities in Vermont aren’t allowed to charge customers anything for opting out of smart meters.  Florida has a one-time charge of $89 and monthly fees of $13 and a Baltimore utility has a one-time charge of $75 and $11 per month.

Lewellen said Oregon and Nevada have higher opt-out fees but even though Oregon allows $600 a year in perpetual fees, Nevada’s monthly fee is $13 or less.

Brandon Jimenez, a staffer for the Corporation Commission, said PSO’s higher fees are in line with fees in Texas and Maryland. He suggested PSO let customers pay that fee over several months to ease the financial impact.

PSO claims only about 1,300 customers have refused smart meters so far and that if the high fees are approved, that number will shrink to 150.

Critics said PSO has asked for the high fees to coerce customers who don’t want the smart meters into accepting them for financial concerns.

PSO will lay off or fire 59 meter readers and officials claim that if those who refuse smart meters don’t pay a premium, the whole customer base will have to make up the difference.

PSO customers are already being charged an extra $37.32 a year for smart meters – whether they have one or not.

Edwin Farrar, a CPA with the attorney general’s office, said PSO should lower the one-time charge to $38.84 and have no monthly fees. If a monthly fee is approved by the commissioners, it should be $5, Farrar said. Opt-out customers could read their own meters and report to the company.