At one of a series of public participation hearings on “Smart Meter” opt-out fees, the Libertarian Party of Ventura County made its message of freedom heard.
Between December 13 and 20, 2012, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) held five hearings across Southern and Northern California: in Bakersfield, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Clemente, and Santa Rosa. The subject of Smart Meters and the opt-out fees being imposed by California’s public utility companies—Southern California Edison (SCE), the Gas Company, and Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E)—have been the subject of intense public controversy for more than a year.
The primary areas of contention regarding Smart Meter installation and use have been two-fold: Privacy/Security – protecting personal/household information; Physical Health – avoiding overexposure to electromagnetic frequency emissions. The five hearings, however, were meant to focus on the fees charged to customers by the utilities, and approved by the CPUC, for opting out of Smart Meter installation at one’s residence or property: both the initial set-up charge and the monthly fee.
In 2012, opt-out customers paid a $75 initial fee and $10 per month thereafter. The utility companies want to at least double those charges.
On December 14, in Santa Barbara’s County Administration Building, CPUC Administrative Law Judge Amy C. Yip-Kikugawa presided over a hearing that packed the room and overflowed into the lobby. At least 40 in attendance gave public comments, all speaking against Smart Meters and the associated opt-out fees. People from all walks of life relayed to the judge their views on the injustice of removing, or planning to remove, their perfectly functional analog or digital meters, to replace them with the controversial Smart Meter—and then charging them for the choice not to participate in the trade.
During the three-minutes allotted to each speaker, the Libertarian Party of Ventura County delivered the following comments:
“We all understand that we have limited choices with regard to how our utilities are delivered. Most homeowners and residents have to accept electricity through our public utility company. Very few of us have the option of going off the power grid.
That necessarily makes the utility companies a monopoly—which is all the more reason that there ought to be an obligation for utilities and the CPUC to allow some freedom of choice where possible, without penalty for exercising that freedom.
Offering an opt-out of the Smart Meter with the consequence of that choice being a tax or fee or penalty—call it what you will—is to offer a false choice. It’s much like if I were to be asked whether I want my left ear cut off, or my right. Neither “choice” really serves me.
Opt-out fees are coercive. People have valid reasons for not wanting a Smart Meter. Whether the concerns are over radio frequency radiation or privacy issues, we ought to have a right to keep our present meters without negative consequences to our wallets.
Utility companies project significant cost savings when the Smart Grid is fully operational. [The Smart Grid replaces California’s aging, inadequate grid, and would be functional with or without the Smart Meter interface.] Wouldn’t it be reasonable and appropriate, then, for a percentage of those savings to cover the costs [manual meter-reading, administrative, etc.] associated with those properties that do not utilize Smart Meters.
This seems feasible, fair, and responsible. We would ask the CPUC to give serious consideration to eliminating opt-out fees entirely.”
California’s utilities customers now await the CPUC’s decision. Will California utility companies be permitted to continue charging customers for a product that they do not want or receive? If so, what will be the financial punishment for making such a choice. Stay tuned…
Modest expectations, much less optimism, are suggested.