Kansas regulators reject mandating smart meter opt-out programs
- The Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC) on Thursday concluded its investigation of opt-out programs for advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), deciding not to require utilities to establish programs to provide a different meter for customers to record their energy usage.
- The state's only investor-owned utilities, Westar Energy and Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L), agreed with previous commission staff recommendations that utilities should not be required to create opt-out programs. Westar, KCP&L and Southern Pioneer's smart meters represent all of the AMI installations in the state, under the KCC's jurisdiction.
- Kansas is one of multiple states that had regulatory proceedings to investigate smart meter opt-out policies and the commission's regulatory staff evaluated opt-out program cost data, including upfront and monthly fees in Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas. Utilities trying to ensure cost-recovery from their AMI investment see opt-out fees as important to their bottom-line, but some states have moved to prohibit utilities from charging additional fees to customers that refuse the technology.
Opt-out options for customers are being addressed more frequently as utilities continue smart meter deployments.
Regulators considered opt-out tariffs for at least 11 utilities in 2018, according to the "50 States of Grid Modernization" annual report from the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center. State regulatory and legislative efforts last year included nearly 35 actions related to AMI.
Beyond asking for upfront flat fees or monthly fees from customers who don't want smart meters, "some utilities are also proposing additional provisions, such as requiring customers to provide meter readings or requiring statements from medical physicians," the report said. The latter is related to customer claims that smart meters can cause health risks, although the Kansas commission found the radio frequency exposure from the meters was lower than from cell phones or microwave ovens, deeming them a non-existent threat.
The Q2 2018 report for "50 States of Grid Modernization" specified that Kansas, Iowa and Washington were among multiple states with open "regulatory proceedings to investigate AMI opt-out policies."
Implementing opt-out programs would be difficult and costly, according to the Kansas commission's conclusion. The costs include an administrative burden, reduced efficiencies and less robust data for outage monitoring.
Creating an opt-out program would require Westar and KCP&L to purchase analog meters or meters with AMI-capabilities disabled, issue special routines to read meters, give less outage information and increase costs to dispatch meter-readers.
KCP&L has an existing opt-out program for its Missouri operations that includes an initial $150 fee and monthly $45 payments.
CLARIFICATION: This article was updated to include that Westar, KCP&L and Southern Pioneer's AMI deployments are the only ones over which the KCC has jurisdiction.
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