The vehement and persistent opposition to utility “smart” meters has given rise to programs across the nation where customers are allowed to refuse installation of those meters and typically keep their traditional analog meters. In most cases, a fee is required to be paid by the customer for this “service.” This service is sometimes called an “opt-out” program.
The primary purpose of this article is to highlight how the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) has perpetrated unequal, unfair, and unjust treatment of citizens in the state of Illinois who choose to refuse installation of smart meters.
In short, the ICC has only allowed a “deferral” of smart meter installations for Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) customers while Ameren customers may benefit from a true “opt-out” program albeit with a monthly fee. It is surprising to SkyVision Solutions that this apparent disparate and unjust treatment of Illinois consumers has not received any media attention. It is equally surprising that the ICC thought it could be so callous as to make such decisions and pronouncements in the first place, i.e., to allow one group of Illinois customers to “refuse” smart meters and another group to only “defer the inevitable.” Let’s review the ICC pronouncements.
ComEd Smart Meter Deferrals
As part of a ruling by the ICC issued on February 5, 2014, customers can refuse to have smart meters installed at a cost of $21.53 per month. “If customers make the decision to refuse a [smart] meter now and incur monthly charges associated with this choice, it should be with full knowledge that this refusal is simply deferring the inevitable,” the Illinois Commerce Commission said in its order. (Reference: ICC Press Release on Smart Meters Feb 6, 2014)
Although this smart meter deferral option should have continued until 2022, the ICC then authorized an accelerated smart meter deployment schedule by which meter installations would be completed three (3) years earlier, effectively shortening the smart meter deferral option until 2019. Another way the ICC describes the situation for ComEd customers is that the smart meter refusal “tariff” contains a “sunset” clause.
Ameren Smart Meter Refusals
According to a press release of September 4, 2014, the ICC “approved new customer charges for Ameren Illinois electric and natural gas customers who refuse advanced meters or don’t provide the utility access to install them. A $20 monthly charge will be assessed to customers who refuse advanced meters once a local area is converted to advanced metering (AMR/AMI). The monthly charge will be $24 or $12 per service type-for combination customers who refuse advanced meters for both Ameren Illinois natural gas and electric service.” (Reference: ICC Press Release Regarding Ameren Smart Meter Refusal Charge)
So in this ruling by the ICC, Ameren customers have no threat that a smart meter “refusal is simply deferring the inevitable.” There is no “sunset.” How can this be?
ICC Rationale for Differing Decisions
Based upon a telephone conversation between SkyVision Solutions and an ICC analyst on September 15th, 2014, the rationale for the differing decisions was explained as pertaining to an interpretation of the Illinois statutory language for the “Smart Grid Advanced Metering Infrastructure Deployment Plan.” Refer to the specific section listed below.
220 ILCS 5/16-108, Section 16-108.6(c)(3)
Sec. 16-108.6. Provisions relating to Smart Grid Advanced Metering Infrastructure Deployment Plan.
(c) The AMI Plan shall contain: …
(3) a deployment schedule and plan that includes deployment of AMI to all customers for a participating utility other than a combination utility, and to 62% of all customers for a participating utility that is a combination utility;
In the above statutory language, ComEd is a participating utility, but Ameren is also a “combination utility” offering both gas and electric service. By statute, Ameren then does not have a required goal of achieving “ALL” customers to receive advanced meters.
According to the ICC, this statute language allows smart meter refusals without a sunset clause for Ameren customers since a 100% conversion goal is not required by statute.
Based upon the ICC’s interpretation, for ComEd customers to be able to refuse smart meters indefinitely, the applicable statute above would need to be changed or clarified regarding the word “all.”
ICC Bureaucratic Decisions by People Who Don’t Care
The above separate decisions are unconscionable. It is unconscionable that bureaucratic ICC commissioners would make decisions so incongruent in a way that affect real people’s lives and well-being and apparently not think twice about the implications of such decisions. They just blindly follow a narrowly preconceived interpretation of the law and do not respect the views of Illinois citizens and customers who vehemently oppose smart meter deployments for a variety of reasons.
In fact, the statute, as worded, requires a “deployment schedule and plan,” not an insistence that 100% adherence with such a plan would ever be attainable.
In addition, here are some quotations from the Final Order on this issue reflecting the views of the Illinois Citizen’s Utility Board.
“CUB points out that ComEd’s AMI Plan, which governs the deployment at issue here, never provided for the deployment of AMI meters to all ComEd customers because not all customer usage is metered (e.g. dusk-to-dawn and fixture lighting). Also, CUB notes that existing law already recognizes the potential for some provider other than ComEd to provide metering service, including presumably AMI metering service. 83 Ill. Admin. Code 460.
CUB argues that reading the phrase ‘deployment of AMI to all customers’ to mean that all customers must be forced to accept an AMI meter would be an unnecessary and inconsistent reading of the language. Unnecessary because it fails to recognize the reality that, despite the best efforts of the utility, customers may not wish to accept an AMI meter or the utility may not be able to gain access to a customer’s premise to install one. And, CUB argues it is inconsistent because the law defines AMI broadly enough to permit customers to refuse a meter.
Also, CUB argues that allowing customers to refuse a Smart Meter is good public policy because forcing customers to accept a Smart Meter will not be conducive to gaining widespread customer acceptance and use of the meters. CUB states that forcing customers who, whatever their reasons, do not desire an AMI meter unfairly punishes those customers.”
Furthermore, Commissioner statements as documented in ICC “bench session” minutes reflect clear antagonistic bias against the people they serve, as follows:
“[T]he Commission directs ComEd to make this [smart meter refusal] charge a separate line item in each customer’s bill and use language for that line item that makes it absolutely clear that the charge is a penalty assessed as a consequence of the customer’s refusal. The Commission recommends smart meter refusal charge as the language. … So I agree with you that the purpose here is to try to make sure we don’t have as many refusals. I think a cost does that, but I really think we need to continue to revisit to make sure that the cost is a correct one for a lot of different reasons.”
With an ICC that literally wants to “penalize” and punish the opposition to smart meters, where can we go wrong? This injustice should be corrected immediately. In fact, due to the inherent and significant risks associated with smart meter technology, all customers should have the “right” to refuse smart meter installations on a cost-free basis, … without penalty and without sunset.