By MATT HOPF
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Customers with Ameren Illinois who refuse to have a new electricity meter installed will see a $20 monthly charge added to their bills.
But Ameren isn't expected to start installation of the new meters in the Quincy area for at least another year.
Spokeswoman Victoria Bush said the company is investing $3.5 billion in system improvements through 2019.
The new meters, which will transmit details about power use, will enable the company to pinpoint outage problems and fix them faster. The meters also can be read remotely.
"It will be fitting with the trends of our everyday lifestyles," Bush said. "Everything is wireless and more high-tech."
The company plans to install 780,000 new electricity meters and 468,000 gas meters in central Illinois.
"When we're done, we'll have a fully automated system, with the advanced technology and automated technology as well," Bush said.
Illinois lawmakers approved "smart grid" legislation in 2011. At the time, officials said the smart grid would add $3.40 to $3.70 a year to the average bill for an Ameren customer.
The Illinois Commerce Commission, which approved the additional monthly charge, said the company should be compensated for meters that require a person to visit them. It also approved a $70 one-time "exchange fee" for customers who accept smart meters but then change their minds.
Customers who don't allow installation of new gas and new electric meters will be assessed a $24 monthly fee.
Some opposition groups in Illinois communities claim the meters pose a health risk through their communication signals, but Ameren rejects that argument. Other critics say the meters' transmission of power use is a breach of privacy. Ameren said the meters' information is too general to be seen as an invasion of privacy.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.