KIUC seeks new fee for old meters

LIHUE — Think keeping that old electric meter was a smart decision? Well, peace of mind could come with an additional monthly fee.

About 10 dollars a month, or $120 annually.

Kauai Island Utility Cooperative announced Wednesday it will ask the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission to approve a $10.27 monthly charge to customers who don’t use the utility’s standard wireless smart meters.

About 10 percent of the utility’s 30,000 customers have opted not to use the smart meters, according to the KIUC release. The co-op estimates the cost of reading and servicing those 3,000 non-standard meters, up from 2,700 one month ago, will be about $340,000 a year — less than $1 per month for every one of its members.

“We’ve said all along that we would calculate the cost of allowing customers to opt-out of the smart meter program,” David Bissell, president and CEO of the cooperative, said in the release. “Our members have made it clear they want us to keep their bills as low as possible, so rather than asking the entire membership to bear the labor-intensive cost of old technology, we believe it’s fair to assign the cost to the members who have chosen to keep the old meters.”

KIUC believes the PUC, which will make the final decision, will agree.

In a recent decision on a related matter, the PUC said it “supports an electric utility’s efforts to recover the full costs of servicing non-standard meters,” according to the release.

The $10.27 monthly charge proposal reflects the cost of sending a technician to a home or business to read the meter, as well as the required vehicles and equipment costs.

Not everyone is thrilled at the prospect of an additional charge.

In March 2012, Kauai taro farmer Adam Asquith filed a complaint in U.S. District Court against KIUC in order to prevent the co-op from installing a smart meter on his property. In May 2012, KIUC and Asquith reached a court settlement in which the co-op agreed to not install one.

The old meters have to be read manually, whereas the smart meters transmit information about electrical use wirelessly back to KIUC.

Asquith said Wednesday he would be happy to go back to court if KIUC tries to charge him the monthly fee.

“I will argue that they can’t now charge me to keep my privacy,” he said, adding that evidence is out that the new meters provide information about what is happening in the home that KIUC would not have otherwise.

As for the additional monthly price tag, Asquith questions why it would cost more now than it has in the past for KIUC to service an old meter. If anything, Asquith believes he saved KIUC money, and that the co-op should credit his account for the expensive smart meter he never had installed.

“What possible new cost would they incur?” he asked of KIUC. “I could see if they wanted to charge me more if I had a smart meter … but I have the same old meter.”

KIUC’s announcement Wednesday came just two days after the Monday deadline for customers to request their old meters back without paying a fee.

KIUC had previously asked the PUC to approve a one-time charge from customers who choose to replace their existing meter with a non-standard meter, according to the release. In a Sept. 27 decision, the PUC indicated that it preferred to review not only the one-time charge being proposed by KIUC, but also “all on-going costs to service non-standard meters.”

Based on this direction from the PUC, KIUC will seek approval of the monthly service charge on all customers with a non-standard meter, in addition to the one-time charge for customers who ask to switch to non-standard meters.

The one-time charge would be $50.64 for residential meters. Proposed one-time charges for non-standard commercial meters range from $65.64 to $138.80, the release states.

KIUC said Wednesday the proposed charges are similar to those of utilities using smart meters on the Mainland. California utilities charge a $75 set-up fee and $10 a month to customers who opt-out. In Las Vegas, customers who opt-out pay a $52.86 set-up charge and $8.82 a month, states the release.

In May 2012, KIUC began its islandwide installation of 30,000 residential and commercial smart meters. The $11 million price tag was split between the co-op and the federal government.

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