GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Josephine County has every intention of moving forward with a new ordinance aimed at mitigating opt-out fees for Pacific Power's smart meters, according to a statement released on Friday.
Just days ago, the Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) threatened to take "appropriate legal action" against the county if they persisted with the ordinance.
“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.”
The Board of Josephine County Commissioners said that they adopted the ordinance to "protect citizens of Josephine County from arbitrary and excessive charges by providing consumer choice."
Nevertheless, Pacific Power customers are indeed presented with a choice — they may accept smart meter installation and see their rates stay relatively flat (public opinion has varied widely on whether customers have seen their usage rates rise, fall, or remain unchanged following installation), or persist in keeping the old, hand-read meters and pay a monthly fee. That fee is currently set at $36.
Smart meters have already been rolled out and installed throughout Oregon.
The County says that their "carefully crafted" ordinance goes into effect on January 29 of 2019. However, they also say that "consumers will be required to pay all portions of their electricity bills unless otherwise notified by PacifiCorp."
As that date looms and Pacific Power attempts to finish their installation of the new devices, disagreement over the ordinance between Josephine County and the PUC seems destined for litigation.
“It is unfortunate that, after the county acted to protect citizens from suffering economic hardship, the Public Utility Commission is apparently choosing to respond by suing the county,” said Wally Hicks, Josephine County legal counsel.
The Portland Business Journal reports that Portland General Electric (PGE) rolled out smart meters for their customers several years ago, receiving relatively little pushback at the time. It also costs more to opt-out for PGE customers — $45 per month compared to Pacific Power's $36.
Pacific Power has said that Josephine County is alone in adopting an ordinance flouting smart meter installation.