The option to opt-out of OG&E’s new Smart Meter installations is not an option at all. OG&E plans to have all the Smart Meters installed across its entire coverage area by the end of 2012.
But a group of concerned citizens in the South S and T Street areas just southwest of Rogers Avenue say that OG&E is ignoring the wishes of citizens who don’t want to switch to the digital meters.
“We just spoke to the OG&E contractor installer of the new meters on South T Street today (Monday, April 9) at 2:50 p.m. He said that they are not installing any meters on any houses with signs or homeowners notifying them that they want to opt-out. He said they just pass them by,” a statement from Joseph Allen read.
Allen’s statement continued: “The installer was very polite. However, as soon as we went inside, he tore off the posted sign and installed it anyway.”
Brian Alford, OG&E managing director of corporate communications and community relations, said Wednesday (April 11) installers will eventually have to install the meters.
“Any time we encounter a situation like that, we will bypass those customers and continue moving forward with our installation, but we will have to circle back with them at a later date. Ultimately, the meter will have to be exchanged. These (installers) are contractors, and they’re not equipped to address specific issues that customers may have. And honestly, it wouldn’t be fair to the customer or the installer if we expected them to,” Alford said.
For issues like those reported by Allen, Alford recommends customers call the toll-free customer service number on the OG&E website (877-898-3834).
Alford did say if he had an exact address for where the incident occurred, it would be “something we’d definitely look in to,” but he confirmed that OG&E does not have any opt-out option for customers wishing to refuse the Smart Meter installation.
OG&E serves approximately 610,000 customers in Oklahoma and 70,000 in Arkansas. The Smart Meter installation has been an ongoing effort for the utility company. Costs are estimated at $330 million, with a $130 million contribution from the 2009 Jobs Stimulus helping cover some of that cost.
The remaining $200 million will come from residential customers, Alford said, via an average $1 per month addition to the customer’s bill for 2012, 2013, and 2014. Alford added that at the end of 2014, “the $1 charge will go away.”
When asked if the company would entertain an opt-out issue pending customer feedback, Alford didn’t indicate the company would.
“We don’t have an opt-out. When customers begin opting out, the cost savings that are passed on to customers begin to erode exponentially. Those meters that are not included as part of the network have to be read by an individual, who requires a paycheck, and a vehicle, which requires fuel. It erodes the ability of the network,” Alford said.
As far as “cost savings” are concerned, Alford notes that in Oklahoma, the number will clock in at $22.5 million over three years. In Arkansas, savings will total $2.7 million for 2012, 2013, and 2014.
“And those savings are guaranteed,” Alford said.
Alford continued: “Keep in mind another thing, too. We’ve recently lowered our Arkansas customers’ bills by about $3.50 per month due to the decrease in natural gas prices. That’s something we’ve passed along.”
The Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative completed installation of its digital meters eight years ago, and according to company representative Greg Davis, there haven’t been “any complaints that I’m aware of” regarding the switch.
Some of the citizens in the South S and T Street areas are not convinced.
According to Allen, a survey of 150 homes in the area found only three, who were open to the Smart Meters. Some concerns Allen noted were additional costs regarding interference with wireless devices and substantial financial penalties on anyone unwilling to accept installation.
Alford said wireless devices, such as baby monitors and garage doors, should work “just fine” and that there would not be any financial penalties since OG&E is implementing the meters regardless.
“We own the meter. We’re simply changing them out. Electric utility is simply the latest industry to move into the digital age. We’ve moved in with our televisions and our telephones, and now we’re beginning to see that type of activity in the utility industry.”
Alford continued: “Smart Meters have more capabilities than the old traditional material. They do a lot of things, and will help improve system reliability. They are the foundation for product and service offerings that will help customers save.”
One way Alford notes that the Smart Meters will help is in the establishment of MyOGEPower.com.
The company’s special website will allow users to see “on a near real-time basis what they’re using, what their bill may be, how usage compares to an average, and how to be highly efficient, and make conscientious energy usage decisions,” he said. (The company also provides this “Frequently Asked Questions” website.)
Representatives from OG&E have agreed to participate in a town hall meeting, arranged with assistance from Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith. The meeting will take place at 6 p.m., April 30 at the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“Our goal is to help build understanding and dispel a lot of the myths that are surrounding this technology. When you think about how we’ve transitioned globally to a digital world, it doesn’t come without concern for some. Our goal is to help assuage those concerns,” Alford said.