2 On Your Side is verifying questions related to Avista’s new smart meters.

The meters, some of which were first installed last spring, are electronic devices that are replacing the older-model manual meters. Smart meters record a customer’s energy use and then electronically send that information to Avista.

Millions of smart meters are already in use across the country, according to Avista. Nationally, the use of the meters has also raised some concerns relating to privacy and health effects due to the meters emitting a radio frequency emission. Avista has given customers the option to opt out of using the meters. “We respect your individual right to choose,” the company writes on its website.

Claim: Avista is charging users who decide to not use smart meters.

A KREM viewer reached out asking the reasoning behind what she interpreted as an opt out fee.

Avista has said that smart meters allow more efficient monitoring and reporting of energy use. “Instead of only receiving a monthly bill, you’ll have access to daily – and even hourly – usage information,” the company said, noting an industry trend toward smart meters.

A look at Avista’s website shows that opting out of a smart meter will result in a $5 monthly fee for customers. Part of that money pays, the company says, costs associated with an employee manually reading a residential “non-smart” meter. It’s worth noting that the $5 is waived for income qualified customers, however.

Additionally, customers face a $75 fee if they decide to opt out of a smart meter 31 days or more after the meter was installed.

The company explains the fee as a way for customers to pay for “non-standard” service. “Like many other utilities across the country, Avista’s standard for metering is now transitioning to smart meters. The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission has determined that those customers who choose the non-standard service should pay for some of the costs for non-standard service,” Avista writes. “The ongoing monthly fee covers some of the costs to manually read your meter and the associated operational and billing activities.”

Verify: It’s true. 2 On Your Side can verify that Avista will charge customers a $5 monthly fee to those who opt out of the smart meters.

Additionally, an Avista spokesperson said that the $5 monthly fee is low when compared to similar opt out fees across the US. The fee also only covers a portion of the cost of an employee manually reading a meter.

Customers who do decide to opt out of a meter will have their traditional meters measured once a quarter. The usage of other months will be based on previous usage during the same time period last year.

When asked if that could potentially result in a customer paying for unused energy based on previous estimates, Avista reiterated that customers only pay for the energy that they use. A company spokesperson said that a customer’s bill will be trued up, or adjusted, the next time the meter is manually read.

For now, not all of Avista’s Washington customers have received smart meters. Between September and October, Avista completed the first phase of its smart meter rollout, installing 1,900 meters. The company expects to begin the second phase next spring, with all smart meters installed in 2020.

How to opt out