SALEM, Ore. — In the face of Josephine County's recently ratified smart meter ordinance, the Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) said on Friday that it has asked a Marion County court to weigh in on the dispute.
"[The PUC] asked a Marion County court to confirm its exclusive authority to set customer rates for investor-owned electric utilities and to prevent a Josephine County ordinance from limiting Pacific Power’s ability to charge PUC-approved fees related to advanced meter installation within the county," the Commission said in a statement.
The County adopted their ordinance at the end of October, stipulating that they would prohibit all opt-out fees leveled by Pacific Power on customers that refuse to receive the new smart meter and instead insist on keeping a hand-read meter.
Pacific Power argued that the County did not have the authority to set fees or to set them aside, appealing to the PUC for help. Since the PUC is typically in charge of approving rates and fees, they quickly threatened legal action against the County.
“This is not our preferred course of action,” said Megan Decker, PUC chair. “But we need to be clear with customers and other jurisdictions that Oregon’s legal structure requires Pacific Power to charge rates set by the PUC. Our exclusive authority and obligation to set nondiscriminatory rates across a utility’s service territory prevents the ability of one jurisdiction from transferring the cost of its local priorities to other communities.”
But earlier this month, Josephine County responded that they would stand by their ordinance.
“Choice and local control are highly valued in Oregon. Local governments are free to raise revenues to fund local priorities, including expanding access to manually read meters. They can ask local residents to provide financial support to customers who cannot afford the opt-out charge,” said Decker. “What local governments cannot do is require Pacific Power to charge customers different rates for electric service in their jurisdictions.”
In Southern Oregon, Pacific Power currently charges a $36 per-month opt-out fee for customers who refuse the upgrade to a smart reader. While Josephine County has argued that the opt-out fee method leaves their residents with no choice, the PUC disagrees.
“The customer’s choice to have a manually read meter has a cost,” said Decker. “The questions are what is the cost and who pays for it?”