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Talent seeks financial relief from smart-meter charges

By Tony Boom

for the Mail Tribune

TALENT — Citing economic burdens on low and moderate-income individuals, the Talent City Council passed a resolution Tuesday asking for reductions of or a wavier from Pacific Power’s opt-out and reading fees for smart meters.

Pacific Power has begun installation of 88,000 smart meters throughout Jackson County. Individuals who wish to retain analog meters must pay a one-time $137 fee and a monthly $36 reading fee that have been approved by the Oregon Public Utility Commission.

“It’s not really an option for folks who are clearly cost burdened,” said council member Emily Berlant. “Maybe (the resolution) will inform higher regulatory bodies. This is a serious issue for our town.”

Although such a resolution has no biding legal authority, Interim City Manager Sandra Spelliscy previously had told the council, it could be included if the council were to file a complaint on the fees with the state PUC.

Ken Baker was the lone council member not to vote for the resolution. Baker said he had concerns about the call for a moratorium on the meter installations while consideration is given to fee reduction during council deliberations. Mayor Darby Ayers-Flood said she would have supported the motion were she allowed to vote.

Citizens concern about health issues for radiofrequency radiation, voltage transients and harmonics, privacy of data the meters generate and potential safety and fire hazards are also referenced in the document.

“I’m glad to see the resolution on the agenda,” said Bridget Krause, who has addressed the council previously on smart meter impacts. “Look at the Pacific Power franchise agreement and start limiting their access to all the power lines and infrastructure.”

Krause reported that smart meters already had been installed at the Anjou Apartments where she lived, and that she is moving from Talent due to health concerns about the meters.

A smart meter has been installed at Town Hall, where the council meets, speaker Jim Thompson noted. He said the opt out fees imposed a severe hardship on consumers and called them a violation of federal law on extortion.

For the city’s numerous low to moderate-income residents, the resolution states “the opt-out fees for the smart meter program would place a serious economic burden on those residents, making it a practically impossible to choose to opt-out of the program despite concerns about the use of smart meters.”

Oregon’s PUC is asked to reconsider the fees, especially for low-income and fixed income individuals, in the resolution. Spelliscy reported that PUC staff members had expressed concerns about the costs opt-out while they were under consideration.

Approval of the fees by the commission included a provision that they be reviewed to show the rates reflect costs to the utility for the service, Spelliscy said.

City officials in Central Point, Eagle Point, Jacksonville and Phoenix reported that their councils were not considering resolutions similar to Talent’s and had not heard economic concerns voiced.

Portland General Electric has a $254 optout fee and $45-per-month reading charges, the highest rate on a chart at stopsmartmetersbc.com showing fees in municipalities, states and Canadian provinces.

Other fees shown on the chart varied:

-- Georgia Power changes no initial fee and $19.29 for monthly reading;

-- Illinois Commonwealth Edison Company charges $23.53 per month and no initial fee;

-- Kentucky’s Frankfort Duke Energy has a $100 fee to remove an installed smart meter and a $25 monthly reading fee;

-- Austin Energy in Texas charges a $75 one-time fee and $10 monthly reading free;

-- In Vermont there are no fees, according to the chart;

-- Seattle City Light has a $124.23 one-time charge and $15.87 charge per billing cycle;

-- and, in California, which had the nation’s first opt-out, there is a $75 initial fee and $10 monthly charge, but those rates are reduced to $10 and $5 respectively for low-income customers

Ayers-Flood and Spelliscy will participate in a conference call today with Kristen Sheeran, energy and climate change policy advisor to Gov. Kate Brown. Sheeran asked for the conference call to discuss smart meter issues after Ayers-Flood sent copies of letters written to the PUC and Pacific Power to the governor’s’ office.

A May 30 forum on smart meters hosted by the city drew an overflow crowd to Town Hall. People from as far as Klamath Falls came to hear a representative from Pacific Power and engineer William Bathgate, who was selected by city officials to speak on concerns about the meters.

Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

A Pacific Power smart meter. Photo by Denise Baratta