As customer backlash continues to take up a lot of space on industry headlines, many utilities around the country are fighting the ground wars with well-organized and passionate groups of customers that are against the installation of Smart Meters on their homes. For customers who have resisted receiving the new meters, some utilities have developed “opt-out” plans, allowing the customer to keep their existing meter. Other utilities have created “opt-in” plans to provide customers with a non-wireless communicating smart meter that is read manually or with an alternative communication technology. As with anything, there are many things to consider as a utility plans for and executes these options. We’ve developed a list of these below:
- The most difficult part of developing “opt-out” or “opt-in” options is coming up with the costs, particularly since there are additional fixed and variable costs involved in reading an alternative meter type. Carefully estimate these costs and work with your commission or other governing body to address the recovery of these costs and proper selection and implementation of the options.
- Some groups are advocating that customers take action into their own hands and providing instructions on how to remove the Smart Meter and replace it with an Analog Meter purchased on the internet. Utilities need to work with their customers very closely and stop this illegal practice, because it is extremely dangerous for non-trained personnel to change a meter.
- As simple as it may seem, utilities should work through all options before cutting off power to customers refusing the meter to be installed on their home. Work with customers on an individual basis to work through their questions/concerns to come to an amenable solution. Turning off power needs to be the very last resort after all alternatives have been exhausted.
- Even if utilities don’t plan on offering the customer an “opt-out” option to keep their existing meter, explore the option and quantify the incremental costs and lost benefits if a customer were to keep their existing meter. You will need to understand this when asked by your commission or regulatory body.
- Utilities should anticipate higher take-rates of an “opt-out” option than an “opt-in” option and create a contingency plan to capture the smart grid benefits associated with the smart meters through an alternative approach if possible. The key benefits from the smart grid meters are; increased revenue with more accurate digital meters, lower meter reading costs, transformer load management, reduced fraud, remote meter disconnect/connect, and wireless AMI communications enhancement. Utilities should anticipate the loss of these benefits and/or additional costs and take them into consideration as they create their budgets and business cases. Some contingencies that utilities could consider are:
- Install transformer based smart meters where customers “opt-out” to keep their existing meter, so that the utility can detect fraud, execute transformer load management, and provide the necessary AMI communications relay function. The utility could charge the customer requesting the “opt-out” option the cost or part of this cost of the transformer smart meter.
- Charge the customer more for a disconnect/reconnect service
- Have a policy that when the utility payer changes (i.e. moves), a smart meter is placed in the home/business
- Charge an extra monthly fee for the manual meter read and any loss of benefits
- Explore non-wireless smart meter alternative that use a different communication solution such as a dedicated phone line
- Utilities need to consider how they market these programs (widely vs. narrowly) as well as how they communicate with customers who wish to select an “opt-in” or “opt-out” option.
If you’d like to talk more about these considerations in developing an “opt-out” or “opt-in” provision for your Smart Meter deployment, please contact Tom Hulsebosch.