LIHUE — Less than two weeks after receiving approval from the Public Utilities Commission to begin charging new fees for old electric meters, the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative validated a member petition submitted with the intent to reverse the commission’s decision.
The additional charges include a one-time 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 for customers who opt not to use a standard, wireless smart meter.
Last month, the petition to reject both fees was drafted by local residents Jonathan Jay, Adam Asquith and Douglas Wilmore. They say the co-op has unfairly singled out certain members. On Nov. 6 — six days after the PUC’s approval — Jay delivered the petition to KIUC, with signatures from 408 co-op members, enough to put the issue to a vote.
“Board policy enables petitioners who gather at least 250 valid signatures to put to a member vote any action of the elected, 9-member cooperative board,” a KIUC release stated Wednesday.
KIUC has determined that the petition received a sufficient number of signatures to be considered qualified.
Now, a committee of the KIUC board of directors will meet within 15 days with the petitioning group to discuss the method of putting the fee issue to a vote.
All utility members would be allowed to cast a ballot.
The process follows the steps outlined in KIUC Board Policy 32.
Co-op Communications Manager Jim Kelly said an election would require a simple majority — 50 percent plus one — of co-op members.
“The decision by the board was about fair cost recovery for our members — reading those old meters costs money,” David Bissell, president and CEO of KIUC, said in the release. “The petitioners are challenging this approach. So now the members will decide whether those who opted out of a smart meter should pay or if all the members should pay.”
The fees took effect Nov. 4, and customers without a smart meter currently pay the extra costs of manually reading and servicing the old meters. KIUC has said spreading the cost to all of its customers would work out to just under $1 per month.
Out of the utility’s 30,000 customers, about 3,000 have opted not to have smart meters.
Jay described KIUC’s announcement Thursday as “excellent news.”
“The decision made by the board was about unfair fees and fines — management’s effort to punish members financially for opting out of the smart meter program,” he said. “However, KIUC’s classic effort at divide and conquer will fail because our island community is too strong in the spirit of aloha and lokahi — unity, harmony, togetherness. We are all in this together.”
Co-op member Kathy Matara, of Kapahi, said she signed the petition and opted not to have a smart meter installed on her house because she is concerned not about privacy issues, but the potential health risks associated with the technology, which transmit information about electrical use back to KIUC.
“The reason I signed the petition is because I believe that everyone should have analog meters,” she said. “I have proven to myself that the radiation (from the meters) is harmful, not from reading the research but from my own experience.”
Matara said she is even considering moving off the island because she suffers from headaches, lack of sleep, pressure in her chest, digestive problems and more.
Today, the minimum price tag for the additional non-smart meter fees is $173.88 for the first year.