Washington regulators insist on smart meter opt-outs

State regulators have issued a formal policy statement guiding Washington’s investor-owned electric and natural gas utilities in the roll out of advanced metering technologies, or “smart meters,” for residential customers.

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) determined companies will need to offer residential customers the ability to opt out of advanced meter installation to address customer concerns over the implementation of  smart meters.

The commission also stated its preference that companies allow opt-out customers to retain their existing meters, rather than requiring an immediate switch from analog to digital, non-communicative meters.

As the implementation of advanced meter technologies progresses in Washington, the commission will develop explicit requirements for protecting consumer information as well as necessary rule changes for company operations in upcoming workshops and rulemakings. This process will continue through 2018.

Recent federal legislation has supported the development of a modernised smart grid and has encouraged states and utilities to prepare for future energy demands. Advanced meters gather customer usage data through two-way communication between the meter and a utility and are critical to smart grid development.

Advanced meters provide automated customer outage detection, energy consumption alerts, and instant service reconnection.

However, advanced smart meter technology has sparked public concern over safety, privacy, cyber security, and customer billing.

In its policy statement the commission expresses its preference that companies minimise opt-out charges to remove any disincentive for customers to select their preferred meter option.

The UTC policy statement also encourages utilities to develop billing practices that take into account low-income customer impacts among other customer concerns.

All opt-out programmes must be approved by the commission prior to a utility installing any advanced meters in its Washington service territory.

In the policy statement, the commission also encourages utilities to communicate to customers the benefits of various opt-out meter options, such as replacing an analog meter with a non-communicating digital meter, to allow customers to choose the best option for their needs.

The policy statement is the result of several months of investigation by the UTC. The process began in February, when commission staff began accepting comments regarding customer choice for meter installation.

Over the course of the investigation, the commission conducted a public workshop on customer choice policies for deployment of advanced meter technologies and took comments from the utilities and other stakeholders.

Download policy documents.