SALEM, Ore. — Josephine County may face legal action after approving an ordinance that promised to mitigate smart meter opt-out fees for residents who refuse they new machinery, the Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) decided on Tuesday.
The County chose to adopt that new ordinance on October 31, in spite of protest from utility company Pacific Power that the County did not have the authority to intervene over fees that were approved throughout the state by the PUC. The ordinance is set to get into effect in roughly three months.
In a meeting on Tuesday, the PUC raised the topic of the Josephine County ordinance, "which attempts to set rates for service and penalties for utilities that are inconsistent with the rates set by the PUC," the commission said in a statement.
During that meeting, the PUC voted in favor of referring the matter to the Oregon Department of Justice for "appropriate legal action."
“Legal action is not the Commission’s preference,” said Megan Decker, Commission chair. “But we need to be clear with customers and other jurisdictions served by Pacific Power that Oregon’s legal structure requires Pacific Power to charge rates set by the PUC. We encourage customers and communities affected by smart meter installations to continue to engage with the PUC as we explore viable, cost-based options for customers.”
The PUC also discussed the fluidity of those opt-out fees, which may change once installation of the new meters is completed. Currently they are set at a monthly charge of $36 throughout Oregon.
"Today, Pacific Power reported that reliable new information on the cost of monthly meter reading for opt-out customers would not be available until installation is complete, but that discussion of alternative options to mitigate the cost of meter reading is underway," the PUC said.
Smart meters have faced some stiff resistance from activist groups, particularly in Southern Oregon and Northern California. Complaints range from concerns that smart meters lead to larger monthly power bills, can cause fires, violate privacy, or even claims that smart meter signals can cause serious health problems.
Pacific Power has addressed these concerns as either based on outdated information from earlier models in other states, or that the more extreme concerns are completely unfounded. They have also claimed that out-of-state groups have been responsible for spreading misinformation regarding smart meters.