Adam Asquith has filed a motion for a TRO to stop KIUC from collecting the $10.27 monthly smart meter opt-out fee until a vote on the question is held next spring.
At least, that's part of what he's asking for. What he really wants is the elimination of any fee at all, regardless of how a majority of the members vote. In his “prayer for relief,” Adam requests a court order suspending the fees until:
KIUC establishes policies that do not extort fees from the plaintiff for preventing the invasion of the privacy of his home by the Defendant [KIUC]
Or in less dramatic rhetoric: no opt-out fee period. At least, none for Adam. And what the utility gives Adam, it has to give everyone else.
People should have the right to “opt-out” from having a smart meter installed, and about 10 percent of the co-op members have exercised it. But it's unfair to expect the other members to pay the costs of reading the analog meters — costs that KIUC justified to the satisfaction of the Public Utilities Commission.
I've primarily heard two arguments from those who think everyone should pay for what the state Consumer Advocate has termed “cost-causers.”
The first: People shouldn't have to pay for their health and privacy. Perhaps not, but they do it all the time. They pay for supplements, gym memberships, organic food, better quality bike helmets, encryption software, unlisted numbers, phone scramblers, etc., etc., all to ensure health and privacy. Why should having an analog meter be any different? And in any case, those making this argument aren't really saying “people shouldn't pay.” They're saying “all of you should pay for us.”
The second: It's punitive, penalizing those who opted-out. The PUC — headed by Mina Morita — nixed that argument in its decision and order approving the fees:
Such a cost recovery approach from the cost-causing customer is reasonable. Thus, the perception that the assessment of the one-time and monthly recurring charges constitutes a penalty for customers that have opted-out of using standard meters is without merit.
In short, KIUC has sufficiently demonstrated that it incurs costs in installing and utilizing non-standard meters, and such costs should be passed on to the cost-causing customer and not to customers that have chosen to utilize standard meters.
Adam, and the other members who circulated a petition that will bring the fee to a vote of the members in January, think the initial decision to impose a fee should have been made by the whole membership.
But it's not like the members never had any say. The fee was approved through a public process that included a KIUC meeting, with opportunity for member testimony, and a PUC review with public testimony. The fee was also approved by the Consumer Advocate, who stated:
1. "[O]ne of the significant issues that is being addressed is cost-causation, in which utility costs incurred to benefit a specific customer group of customers, or customer class, are assigned as much as possible to the customer, group of customers, or customer class that causes those costs to be incurred to prevent other customers or customer classes from paying for or subsidizing the 'cost-causer.' This is sometimes generally referred to as 'the costs following the cost-causer.' "
That seems a reasonable rationale, reached through an open process, and it's what's been adopted elsewhere.
But no, it's not enough, the process will go on, dragged out by those who aren't necessarily concerned primarily with their fellow coopers — despite lofty language about democracy and transparency.
Let's face it: the people who were not happy with the original decision to install smart meters are of course not happy with the decision to charge opt-out fees. Just as they will not be happy with the election results, or anything that arises having to do with smart meters. Because what they really want is to get rid of the smart meters altogether.
Which is their opinion, and they're entitled to it, but at what point do you decide — as a member-owned cooperative — that ship has sailed? Or do the 10 percent who don't want smart meters get to keep using new ploys to hold the other 90 percent hostage at the dock?