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Oregon Sues Josephine County Over Smart Meter Ordinance

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The state of Oregon is suing Josephine County over smart meters.

Josephine County this fall passed an ordinance prohibiting Pacific Corp from charging customers higher rates for opting out of its smart meters program. The digital meters use wireless networks to send information to the company.

Pacific Corp — through its Oregon-based subsidiary Pacific Power — is charging customers an extra $36 a month for opting out. That’s because without the wireless network turned on, the company has to pay someone to read their meters.

Some people are wary of the meters because they use WiFi. Specifically, they're concerned about the electromagnetic waves they emit. Although there’s scant evidence suggesting these meters cause adverse health effects, Josephine County counsel Wally Hicks says the extra fee is unfair.

“Persons who wish to opt out, whatever their reason may be, should not be subjected to an economic hardship,” Hicks said. “And that economic hardship is driven by an economic bias, which is prohibited by state law.”

The Oregon Public Utilities Commission filed a lawsuit against the county last week in the Marion Circuit Court. The Oregon Department of Justice is handling the case for the state utilities commission.

Executive director Mike Grant said local jurisdictions don’t have the power to decide utility rates. If they did, that could cause rates to rise in other localities.

“There are costs that these are charges are intended to address,” Grant said. “If one jurisdiction could say we don't want to have to pay for a utility service, then those costs need to be picked up elsewhere for the utility to be viable.”

Pacific Power is about halfway through replacing its Oregon customers’ analog meters with smart meters. The utility has already replaced all of the meters in Josephine County. Customers who opt out of the smart meters program will still have digital meters, but the WiFi connection will not be turned on.

Hicks says Josephine County customers who have opted out should expect to continue paying the extra fee every month until the case makes it way through the courts.


April Ehrlich is JPR content partner at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Prior to joining OPB, she was a regional reporter at Jefferson Public Radio where she won a National Edward R. Murrow Award.