Scarborough is asking Central Maine Power Co. to delay its installation of “smart” electricity meters in town so residents can better understand what risks the equipment might pose.

The Town Council passed a resolution Wednesday asking the utility to hold off for at least 90 days and hold a public forum so residents can learn about the smart meter system and voice any concerns.

The resolution, approved by all five councilors present, made Scarborough the first Maine community to make such a request.

CMP will work with town officials on the logistics of the forum but doesn’t think a 90-day delay is necessary, said John Carroll, a spokesman for the utility.

“We’re very happy to do that, meet with their residents,” he said. “We’ll certainly try to meet with them as soon as possible. There’s no reason for us to wait 90 days.”

CMP has started a two-year project to replace 620,000 meters with the digital devices, which communicate through a two-way wireless network. The conversion to smart meters will save CMP money and is supposed to help customers manage their electricity costs.

CMP expected to install the equipment in Scarborough from now until the first quarter of next year, Carroll said.

Elisa Boxer-Cook, an environmental health activist who lives in Scarborough, led the push for the resolution.

“The fact is, there is a global debate about the safety of radio frequency radiation,” she said. “Let’s err on the side of caution.”

Boxer-Cook said it’s not the placement of an individual meter that concerns her, but the system of meters, repeaters and antennae nodes in a neighborhood.

The Town Council considered the resolution after residents contacted members about their worries. According to the resolution, residents are concerned about possible health hazards of radio frequency and microwave radiation, and the potential that the equipment may be vulnerable to hacking.

The resolution also says residents are concerned that the Maine Public Utilities Commission failed to consider health and privacy issues when it approved the project, and that residents didn’t get enough notice about the equipment installation.

The Town Council has not determined whether the concerns are valid, but it is seeking a pause in the process so the concerns can be addressed, according to Town Manager Thomas Hall.

Adam Taylor, a lawyer who is working with Boxer-Cook and other Scarborough residents, is preparing a complaint that will ask the PUC why there hasn’t been an in-depth dialogue about the concerns.

The PUC did consider cybersecurity when it evaluated the smart meter program, which won approval in February, said Derek Davidson, director of the consumer assistance division. The commission generally focuses on rates, service quality and other issues brought up by involved parties, he said.

“Frankly, the issue of health impacts was not raised and there was no evidence introduced to indicate that was a problem,” he said.

Dr. Dora Anne Mills, the state’s top public health official, recently made an initial assessment that smart meters do not pose a health threat because they operate within a similar frequency and power range as the wireless routers for home computers.

Mills used information from CMP and smart meter opponents in making her assessment.

 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: [email protected]