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Oncor wants OK to charge for meters

Oncor Electric Delivery, which serves about 3 million customers in North Texas, said Thursday that it will ask the Public Utility Commission to approve a surcharge of less than $2.35 a month to cover the cost of installing technologically advanced meters at homes and businesses.

Oncor, a regulated utility that operates electrical transmission and distribution wires, said the new meters will allow the company to eliminate meter readers, better manage power outages and usage and give customers a way to better monitor and control their electricity use. The meters would be in place by 2012.

The surcharge would continue for 11 years, for a total charge of about $310 to customers. CenterPoint Energy, Oncor's Houston-area counterpart, made a similar filing May 5 for the new meters that seeks a total of about $450 over eight years.

One Texas consumer advocate, representing the Texas Ratepayers Organization to Save Energy, questioned why customers should finance equipment that she said benefits mainly electricity companies. And a national energy-efficiency group, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, said customer savings from such meters are largely unproven but agreed that they help manage the electrical grid.

Oncor Chief Executive Bob Shapard said "customers will be able to see how much electricity they use throughout the day and, using that information, make smarter decisions about how they consume electricity." The company said it expects to file its proposal before June 1.

PUC spokesman Terry Hadley said that assuming that there is a contested hearing regarding the proposal, the agency's rules allow 150 days to review the requests. CenterPoint's filing has already drawn one request to intervene, Hadley said.

Oncor's latest meter initiative replaces an effort, launched more than a year ago in Dallas, to install new electronic meters. But after that program began, the PUC issued rules requiring more-advanced meters, and Oncor stopped installing the meters. About 600,000 of those meters are in place, company representatives said.

Oncor spokesman Chris Schein said the company plans to reuse them in simpler installations, such as metering traffic lights.

Steven Nadel, executive director of the national energy council, called the meters "a good load-management system" but customers savings vary.

"If you give customers some feedback, on average they tend to save," Nadel said. But if the meters are used with pricing plans that offer discounts for off-peak use, electricity consumption can actually rise, he said.

Carol Bierdrzycki of the Texas ratepayers group, called Oncor's proposed surcharge "a subsidy to the retail electric providers" and suggested that the companies pay for the meters.