Electric cooperatives and their members shouldn’t be forced to pay a federal fee on smart meters and smart grid technologies, NRECA told federal regulators in comments filed Aug. 6.
Phone companies and their customers have been the traditional source of money for the Universal Service Fund, which was established to help meet the goal of universal telecommunications service. As of the third quarter of 2012, the fee was 15.7 percent of a telecom company’s interstate and end-user revenues.
That method is now considered outdated, and the Federal Communications Commission is looking to expand the entities that would have to contribute to the USF.
But NRECA said that including smart meter/grid technologies would discourage deployment and increase energy costs to rural consumers already facing economic challenges.
In its recent comments, NRECA agreed with other filing parties that the FCC lacked the authority to treat smart meter/grid technologies as assessable services.
When deployed by electric co-ops, such technologies “may seem akin to information services, which the commission has historically excluded from USF,” but they are not, the association commented. “These services … are used as an input into the provision of energy services, and do not involve the offering of an information processing capability to third parties.”
Even if smart meter/grid technologies were viewed as information services, NRECA said, they are not separate services being provided to electric consumers, but are used in the delivery of electric services.
Consequently, the association emphasized, “the commission should not place burdensome USF obligations on rural electric cooperatives for technologies which support their primary service—the delivery of safe, reliable and affordable electricity.”
NRECA also called on the FCC to exclude smart technologies as a funding source in order to support marketplace innovation.
“The commission has repeatedly recognized the recent growth and importance of smart systems in improving energy efficiency,” the association said.
“We applaud the FCC’s analytical and well-thought-out questions on reforming the contribution system that supports national telecom goals,” said Martha Duggan, senior principal for regulatory affairs.
“We trust that the commission will consider the view of many commenters, including NRECA, that smart grid technologies should not be subject to assessments.”