Non-smart meters fees approved

LIHUE — Kauai Island Utility Cooperative has received approval to charge additional fees for about 3,000 customers who opted not to use a standard smart meter on their home or business.

The charges include a one-time, non-standard meter set-up fee — ranging from $50.64 for residential meters to $138.80 for commercial ones — as well as a monthly fee of $10.27.

The minimum price tag for the first year is $173.88.

In its 26-page decision sent Friday, the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission wrote it supported KIUC’s position that customers who choose not to utilize a standard smart meter should be responsible for the incremental costs to the utility.

“The perception that the assessment of the one-time and monthly recurring charges constitutes a penalty for customers that have opted-out of using standard meters is without merit,” the commission said. “In short, KIUC has sufficiently demonstrated that it incurs costs in installing and utilizing non-standard meters and such costs should be passed on to the cost-causing customer.”

Originally, KIUC said the one-time service fee would apply only to customers who requested replacing their smart meters after Sept. 30. However, both KIUC tariffs will take effect Monday.  

In other words, as stated in the PUC’s ruling, “a customer’s ability to defer the installation of a smart meter without charge technically exists until Nov. 3.”

KIUC, which provides power to around 30,000 customers on Kauai, has said that reading and servicing the 10 percent of opt-outs will cost the co-op $340,000 per year.

Earlier this month, a petition to reject both fees was drafted by local residents Jonathan Jay, Adam Asquith and Douglas Wilmore, who argue the co-op was singling out certain customers.

Around 300 utility members have signed the petition. Jay described the PUC’s ruling as “outrageous” and a “small slap in the face to grassroots democratic member actions.”

However, he and others are committed to doing everything in their power to pull the plug on what they feel are unfair meter fees.

“It is quite frustrating that the PUC would not respect KIUC’s own internal democratic process in their rush to judgment, and it is not pleasant to see democratic mechanisms like signature gathering get short-circuited,” he wrote.

“Nevertheless, the petition drive shall continue,” he added.

More information about the petition can be found at www.p2pkauai.org.

In its decision, the PUC acknowledged the benefits of smart meters, including the ability of smart meters to promote a customer’s efficient use of energy. The PUC also stated that it continues to promote the benefits of smart meters on Kauai as part of KIUC’s efforts to modernize its grid.

“We have given customers the choice not to have a smart meter, which is more than many other utilities have done,” said David Bissell, president and CEO of KIUC. “We have been extremely flexible in accommodating customers’ requests, sometimes switching meters multiple times, replacing perfectly good, perfectly safe new meters with old-technology equipment that was set to be retired. This is expensive, time-consuming work that has tied up our staff and has cost all of our members. This decision puts the cost where it belongs.

“This is absolutely an issue of fairness – why should the 90 percent of our customers who are enjoying the benefits of the smart meter have to subsidize the other 10 percent?”

Anticipating that many customers will now want to replace their old meter with a smart meter, KIUC is developing a procedure for processing the installation requests. Information about the process will be released sometime next week.

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