opt-out fees
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The State Corporation Commission of Kansas has announced that utilities in the state need not offer an alternative metering solution to consumers that choose to opt-out of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) programmes in the state.

This follows a rise in such incidences across the US as utilities roll out smart metering programmes.

The only utilities affected are those that are privately-owned, Westar Energy and Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L), and Southern Pioneer, the three utilities in the state currently involved in AMI rollouts.

KCP&L already has an opt-out tariff in place in Missouri, charging customers an initial $150 fee, and $45 monthly payments.

The decision comes after an investigation by the commission into the AMI programmes and possible opt-out tariffs offered by 11 utilities across the country, according to the "50 States of Grid Modernization" annual report from the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center.

Interestingly, state regulatory and legislative efforts in 2018 saw nearly 35 actions related to AMI. The state is one of several including Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri, in which regulatory proceedings looked into opt-out policies and programme costs inclusive of monthly and upfront fees. These charges assist the recovery of costs incurred in the rollout, but many state regulators have opposed these charges.

According to the report "some utilities are also proposing additional provisions, such as requiring customers to provide meter readings or requiring statements from medical physicians," with the latter being related to consumer claims that AMI exposes users to harmful radiation, when in fact, the Kansas commission found that radio frequency emissions were lower than that of a mobile phone.

The 2018 second-quarter report for "50 States of Grid Modernization" noted Kansas, Washington and Iowa as three of multiple states with open "regulatory proceedings to investigate AMI opt-out policies."

Whilst not providing an alternative, the commission’s findings were that opt-out programmes are both costly and difficult to implement, carrying additional administration, negatively affecting efficiency and outage monitoring.

For utilities such as Westar and KCP&L, possible alternatives include the purchase of analog or “dumbed-down” smart meters, which necessitate special meter-reading routines and the associated operational costs.  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.