August 8, 2013

Safety of smart meters contested at Maine hearing

Central Maine Power Co. defends smart meters, but some consumers say the devices harm their health.

By PAUL KOENIG Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA —Central Maine Power Co. has called its system of more than 600,000 smart meters installed across the state a success, saving customers money and providing them more information about their energy usage.

click image to enlarge

Public Utilities Commission members David Littell, left, and Mark Vannoy listen to Marguerite Lachance testify about smart meters during a hearing on Wednesday at Jewett Hall on the campus of University of Maine at Augusta.

Joe Phelan / The Associated Press

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Marguerite Lachance, 79, of Springvale, testifies about smart meters during a Public Utilities Commission hearing Wednesday at Jewett Hall on the campus of University of Maine at Augusta.

Joe Phelan / Kennebec Journal

Additional Photos Below

However, opponents of the meters claim the radio-frequency radiation emitted by the wireless meters causes health problems ranging from headaches and fatigue to chest pains.

Several opponents, all from southern Maine, testified at a public hearing Wednesday at the University of Maine at Augusta about health issues they or their family members experienced as a result of the meters.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission held the hearing, along with a second one in the evening, as the result of a Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruling last year that said the PUC had failed to resolve health and safety issues related to CMP’s installation of smart meters.

“When I woke up every single day with a headache, I knew something was wrong,” testified Ray Giroux, 72, of Portland. He said after CMP replaced the smart meter six months later, the headaches stopped and his energy returned.

“They need to listen to people,” Giroux said after the hearing. “People are getting sick.”

Most of the seven people who testified during the first of the two public hearings said they objected to CMP forcing customers to pay to not have smart meters installed on their homes.

Marguerite LaChance, 79, of Springvale, said the dizziness, fatigue and chest pains she experienced as a result of the smart meters made her think she was dying, to the point that she wrote her own obituary and offered her entire yarn collection to her sister.

She testified that her health problems with the smart meter occurred because she had a pacemaker. After CMP removed the meter, the symptoms went away, she said.

“They are still making me pay extra to live free of the awful effects of their terrible new meter,” LaChance said, “but I would rather pay them their wrongful fee and live than save $12 a month and die.”

CMP spokesman John Carroll said the smart meters meet Federal Communications Commission standards, and that the case is more about people who believe any radio waves are harmful to their health.

He said CMP must rely on the FCC and health organizations such as the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, which have dismissed the concerns about adverse health effects of radio technology.

Opponents say the health effects are real and will only grow with the continued use of the technology.

Stuart Cobb, 37, of Portland, testified that he got brain cancer as a result of heavy cell phone use, and he called on the PUC to do something about proliferation of the smart meters.

Cobb’s grandmother, Wilma Cobb, 83, of Portland, said her grandson now gets headaches whenever he visits homes with smart meters. She objects to the monthly charge to not have one.

“Why should I be punished for being a caring grandmother?” Cobb said, her voice breaking up. “CMP should provide customers with a choice.”

CMP began replacing analog meters with smart meters following an order from the PUC in 2010.

Customers can switch back to a mechanical meter or a digital one, but it costs $40 or $20, respectively, Carroll said. They also have to pay an extra monthly charge of $12 or $10.

Carroll said the charge is necessary for the maintenance of the obsolete technology and is preferable to the company spreading out the additional costs to all ratepayers.

About 8,000 have opted out of the smart meter system, down from around 8,600 last year, Carroll said.

“The vast majority of our customers are not concerned about this technology and are seeing the benefits of it,” he said, “so you have to take this in stride.”

Carroll said the process has been challenging for CMP, which didn’t expect this amount of opposition.
The public will have a chance to submit written testimony before the PUC holds an evidentiary hearing with the parties involved in the case providing expert witnesses, according to Jody McColman, a staff attorney for the PUC.

He said the original timeline has been delayed because Ed Friedman, the lead plaintiff in the court suit against the PUC, is recovering from a helicopter crash that happened in July.

Paul Koenig can be contacted at 621-5663 or at:

pkoenig@mainetoday.com

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Additional Photos

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The Public Utilities Commission gave the public a chance Tuesday to express concerns about the safety effects of so-called smart meters.

2012 Associated Press File Photo

  


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