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April 24, 2014

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PUC reduces charges for power customers who don’t want smart meters

CARSON CITY – The thousands of customers who opposed the installation of smart meters on their homes by NV Energy have received a belated Christmas gift from the state Public Utilities Commission.

The commission, in a 2-1 decision Wednesday, voted to provide a cheaper alternative to those who don’t want a smart meter. The commission also gave the power companies more discretion in choosing an alternative meter, which could allow homeowners to keep their current analog meters.

In November, the commission approved a plan allowing Nevada power to charge customers a $107 installation cost for an alternate meter, and required that it be a “non-communicating digital meter.” On Wednesday, commissioners lowered the installation fee the company could charge to $52 and allowed the company to decide what kind of alternate meter should be installed. The monthly charge for an alternate meter was reduced to $8.82 from $9.

Commission Chairwoman Alaina Burtenshaw said there was a “good indication” that dissatisfied customers wanted to retain their existing analog meters or make the company replace the new smart meters with the analog meter.

“This is a win for the people,” said Dan Jacobsen, technical staff manager for the state Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The commission gave them what they wanted.”

Although it wasn’t specifically directed in the order, Jacobsen said the chairwoman’s comments made it clear the utility should choose the analog as the alternative meter.

Nearly 30 customers of the utilities testified at the hearing they wanted to retain their analog meters. Opponents of the smart meter said they emit radiation that causes health and safety problems.

The PUC estimated 4,500 consumers in Clark County and 3,000 in Northern Nevada did not want the smart meters.

Commissioner David Noble, in his dissent, said the analog meters were inadequate. As they age, they run slower and therefore reduce the rates of those customers and that shifts the cost to those with the smart meters, he said,

“The analog meter should not be an option,” he said.

The commission, in its 2-1 vote, agreed to re-consider the petition by the consumer protection bureau and the utility. Those parties reached a stipulation to lower the November rates and to install the analog meters.

Burtenshaw said the stipulation should not be accepted because the staff of the PUC did not also agree. But Burtenshaw and Commissioner Rebecca Wagner mainly followed the recommendations in the stipulation.

Burtenshaw said to order NV Energy to install analog meters as the alternate would require another hearing that could last 30 to 45 days. She said it was time to move forward with this case.

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