Josephine County moves forward with “smart meter” regulations

SALEM, Ore. – The Josephine County Board of Commissioners is moving forward with an ordinance targeting “smart meters,” even with the threat of legal action from state officials.

The new digital meters—installed free of charge—can help shorten outages and provide usage data to increase efficiency, Pacific Power said. Customers can even track their usage hour-by-hour in order to make any adjustments to reduce their power usage. This data will be available via a secure website.

The smart meter rollout in Josephine County was met with concern from community members. Some of them took an issue with alleged radiation emissions, others were worried about privacy.

Pacific Power said the effects from radiation are minimal, and the benefits of the meters will be great for the community overall. However, some people don’t think the tradeoff is worth it, and they’re taking issue with the company’s fees if they choose not to install one, calling the “opt-out” charge akin to extortion.”

Pacific Power said customers who choose to opt out would be charged an estimated $36 a month. Customers who request the removal of an existing smart meter will be charged a one-time fee of $169.

In October of 2018, Josephine County commissioners passed an ordinance to put limits Pacific Power’s plans in their county and take the teeth out of the opt-out charge.

However, the Oregon Public Utility Commission is in charge of setting charges. Josephine County will face a legal fight if they continue, according to the PUC.

“Legal action is not the [Public Utility] Commission’s preference,” said Megan Decker, PUC Chair. “But we need to be clear with our customers and other jurisdictions served by Pacific Power that Oregon’s legal structure requires Pacific Power to charge rates set by the PUC. We encourage customers and communities affected by smart meter installations to continue to engage with the PUC as we explore viable, cost-based options for customers.”

According to the PUC, the $36 charge is an estimate based on information and assumptions from 2017. Pacific Power was asked to report back with new information regarding meter reading costs and alternative options for customers who’d like to opt out of the program.

On November 9, Josephine County commissioners announced they’re moving forward with their “Consumer Utility Choice Ordinance,” set to go into effect on January 29, 2019.

“The PUC is again taking the side of Pacific Power and not our citizens,” said Commissioner Simon Hare. “We are more than willing to listen and work with the PUC. We remain dedicated to ensuring that Josephine County citizens have the right to consumer choice, even when dealing with utility providers.”

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