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What does it cost to opt out of a smart meter?

This week at the National Electricity Forum in Washington DC, a state public utility commissioner asked me how much it would cost for a customer to “opt out” from receiving a smart meter.

Opting out means not receiving a standard smart meter — those customers would keep their old electromechanical meters, which must be read manually and do not record when energy is used. Also, old meters do not support smart appliances, improved home energy management through information feedback, or time-managed and discounted electric vehicle charging. Furthermore, when individual “dumb” meters are interspersed among large numbers of remotely read smart meters, it becomes costly to read and maintain the old meters.

Recently, Central Maine Power filed an extensive analysis of the opt-out topic. Here’s what they found…

CMP conducted this analysis for the Maine Public Utility Commission, in response to a PUC inquiry into CMP’s smart meter initiative. CMP examined alternatives that would still provide smart meter functionality, since keeping old meters running would violate the PUC’s functionality requirements.

According to CMP, the cost of opt-out smart meter options is somewhere between $457 and $2,655 — with additional monthly operating costs of as much as $6.28 per customer.

Like most US utilities, CMP is deploying RF-based smart meters. Each of these meters emits radio frequency radiation at a small fraction of the level emitted by a cell or cordless phone.

One option analyzed by CMP is to move the meter and put it at the top of the utility pole. This is possible, as long as no more than two homes are connected to that transformer. However, on average each transformer serves about five homes — and usually many more in suburban and urban areas. Where a poletop meter will fit, the capital cost runs about $457 per meter, according to CMP.

Another option is using power line carrier (PLC) technology. In PLC systems, the data signal is transmitted by existing electrical wires. PLC systems require their own communications network, which must be built in parallel with the communications network CMP has already put in place. The per-meter cost for PLC varies, depending on how many opt-out meters share this new infrastructure.

CMP currently has about 600,000 meters in total. Customers are currently requesting opt-outs at the rate of 1.5%, which would translate to 9,000 opt-out meters at the completion of rollout. For these assumptions, PLC would cost $2,655 per meter, plus an additional $6.28 per meter per month to operate the second communications network.

In addition to providing cost data, CMP makes some additional points about smart meter opt-out:

  • Customers who opt out would be receiving non-standard service. Under Maine (and most other states’) laws, such customers are required to pay the incremental cost of such non-standard service.
  • Opt-out options adversely affect system performance for managing load and responding to outages. This can degrade electricity system reliability.
  • Customers who opt out will miss out on other innovative technologies, such as electric vehicles and smart appliances.
  • Opt-out puts federal funding at risk. The opt-out approach might jeopardize CMP’s funding from the US Department of Energy. This would double the cost for smart meters, and Maine’s power consumers ultimately would end up covering that expense. A less likely, but still possible outcome would be cancellation of the smart meter program — which would deprive Maine citizens of the economic, environmental, and lifestyle benefits that smart meters offer.

The Maine PUC is using CMP’s information, as well as data submitted by other parties, to determine whether the CMP smart meter initiative is being implemented justly and reasonably. For more information search the Maine PUC virtual case file service for docket numbers 2010345 and 2010389.