A group of Kauai Island Utility Cooperative members wants to reverse a utility decision to charge $10.27 per month to customers who chose not to have a wireless smart meter installed at their home.
The group last week submitted a petition with 408 signatures to the KIUC’s board of directors asking to have all 33,000 cooperative members vote on the matter. The group was responding to a decision by the Public Utilities Commission on Oct. 31 permitting the KIUC to charge the monthly fee to cover the costs of manually reading and servicing traditional electric meters.
The PUC also approved a one-time $50.64 charge for residential customers who had a smart meter installed but want to have it replaced with a traditional meter.
About 3,000 KIUC members have opted out of having a smart meter, which allows utilities to remotely read customers’ meters as well as connect and disconnect service.
A KIUC spokesman said Monday the utility is verifying the signatures on the petition. The KIUC’s bylaws require at least 250 member signatures to challenge any board action.
The three KIUC members who spearheaded the petition drive say they object to the smart meters based on privacy concerns, saying the devices allow the utility to monitor their electricity use at all hours of the day and night.
"Now they want to charge us a fee for our privacy. That’s crazy," said Jonathan Jay, who circulated the petition along with KIUC members Adam Asquith and Douglas Wilmore.
"We decided to challenge the action with the petition," Jay said.
Other KIUC members say they are concerned that the radio waves emitted by smart meters can cause health problems.
Kathy Matara, a natural health care practitioner from Kapaa, said she and her daughter have been experiencing memory loss, digestive problems, restless sleep and fatigue. She said she believes the symptoms are the result of radio transmissions emanating from her neighbors’ smart meters.
Matara chose not to have a smart meter installed, but many of her neighbors have the devices. Matara said she used a gauge to measure the strength of the radio waves traveling through her house and found them to be at "unhealthful levels."
Any cost savings achieved through the smart meter program will be returned to members though the KIUC’s annual patronage capital refund program, said Jim Kelly, KIUC spokesman.
In its ruling the PUC agreed with the KIUC’s position that the cost of reading the traditional meters should be "passed on to the cost-causing customer."
If the cost of reading the traditional meters were spread across all 33,000 members, the fee would be about $1 per month per customer, Kelly said.