NV Energy proposes fees for smart-meter opt-out

A smart-meter opt-out initiative took another step toward reality Tuesday, as electric utility NV Energy filed suggested fees it would charge ratepayers to leave its NV Energize program.

NV Energy asked the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada to let it charge a $98.75 one-time opt-out fee, plus a monthly charge of $7.61, in Southern Nevada. In Northern Nevada the one-time fee would be $107.66 and the monthly fee would be $11.01.

In its filing, NV Energy said the upfront fee would cover labor costs for installation of an alternative meter, customer support, application processing and customer communications materials.

The monthly charge would go toward expenses for meter-reading, service technicians and hardware and software maintenance.

The commission approved an opt-out plan in February, after workshops in December and January looking into NV Energize, a $301 million, statewide initiative.

The commission found smart meters safe, reliable and accurate in 2010, after weeks of hearings and consumer sessions, but commissioners wanted an opt-out plan for ratepayers who oppose smart meters based on health, privacy and security concerns. Instead of smart meters that store and transmit daily and hourly power-use details directly to NV Energy, ratepayers who opt out will receive digital meters read remotely once a month by drive-by meter readers.

The idea was to balance consumer worries about constant tracking of power use with NV Energy's plan to cut meter-reading costs. The company says switching to smart meters will save $35 million a year in operating costs.

NV Energy's fee request falls below what other regional utilities have requested.

California utility Pacific Gas & Electric asked for a one-time charge of about $270 for non-communicating meters, though the California Public Utilities Commission approved a $75 opt-out fee and $10 monthly charge.

And the Oregon Public Utility Commission approved a $254 one-time charge for a non-communicating meter, plus a $51 monthly charge.

NV Energy officials say they expect about 7,500 ratepayers out of 1.45 million statewide will opt out of the program. That share is based on figures from other jurisdictions: Portland General Electric in Oregon had two opt-outs from 800,000 ratepayers, while Pacific Gas & Electric in Northern California has had 4,400 opt-outs among more than 6 million customers.

The utility has 9,000 people on its statewide installation-postponement list. The commission must decide on opt-out pricing by the fall, and once the agency issues its final order, NV Energy will have 90 days to convert postponements to opt-outs. It's likely not all of those postponers will opt out: The commission has ordered the utility to develop an informational campaign educating ratepayers on their options. Materials will include mailers and websites that compare and contrast the company's standard smart meter and the alternative meter.

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512.