Less than 1 percent of Florida Power & Light Co’s 4.5 million customers — about 36,000 — have either refused to allow the company access to install a smart meter, or asked to be on a postponement list.
In an effort to keep their old meter from being changed out, some customers have gone so far as to stucco over their meter enclosures. More than 800 customers have prevented installations by altering the structure in some way, such as building a frame over it, allowing trees to block it or constructing fences to block access to their properties, FPL said.
The new meters transmit and receive data remotely as electricity is used and are considered essential to modernizing the electric grid. Juno Beach-based FPL completed its smart meter installations in its 35-county territory in April.
The company is asking the Florida Public Service Commission to allow it to bill customers who opt out of the now-standard smart meters a $105 enrollment fee and a $16 a month service charge. Action on the issue was delayed in September after PSC staff requested more information about how the fees were calculated, but is expected to be reconsidered by early next year.
Running a separate non-standard meter program will cost FPL more than $3 million in upfront implementation costs and $2.46 million a year to operate, FPL spokeswoman Elaine Hinsdale said Thursday. Those customers who opt out will have a digital meter that does not communicate remotely.
“We don’t believe it would be fair to ask the 99.5 percent of our customers who are using the standard meter to subsidize those who are not,” Hinsdale said.
Customers who have declined a smart meter cite concerns ranging from health-related issues to privacy and security.
FPL customer Marilynne Martin of Venice, who has been outspoken against smart meters, said Thursday, “Trying to charge us $3 million to develop this program is bull. I am sure it has already been built. They need it for other purposes.
“They are trying to push the cost off on us. A lot of people cannot afford it. They are putting in these fees to get people to comply,” Martin said. “This is a network you are putting on my home. It is not a meter.”
About 24,000 customers, including 1,100 in Palm Beach County, have asked to be placed on a postponement list and 12,000 failed to respond to FPL’s requests to access their premises.
However, FPL expects that if and when the fees are allowed, only 12,000 opt-outs will remain, and all those customers will be charged, Hinsdale said. The estimate is based on what other utilities across the nation have experienced once they began charging the fees.
An FPL-conducted survey of 10 other utilities found enrollment fees ranging from a high of $254 by a much smaller utility in Oregon to zero. The monthly fees ranged from $51 to zero, with most in the $9 to $12 range.
Costs to create the separate program for the non-standard meters include the backend system for billing and monthly meter reading by an employee, as well as changes that must be made in the outage and restoration system.
While a smart meter can be “pinged” to see if the power is out, a truck must be dispatched to the non-smart meter, and there is a delay in getting the lights back on, Hinsdale said.