Thursday, May 23, 2013
By Tux Turkel firstname.lastname@example.org
PORTLAND — The Maine Public Utilities Commission failed to resolve health and safety issues related to Central Maine Power Co.’s installation of smart meters and should now do so, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court has ruled.
In a decision released today, the court sided with smart-meter opponents, who argued that utility regulators ignored their legal mandate to ensure the delivery of safe and reasonable utility services.
At the same time, though, the court didn’t agree with the view of opponents that the meters violated constitutional issues related to privacy and trespass.
Following a PUC order in 2010, CMP began switching out its 615,000 analog meters with new-technology digital meters. The $200 million project, which received half its funds from federal stimulus dollars, is now largely complete.
Because the meters already are installed, it’s not clear what the practical effect of the court’s decision may be. The PUC said today it is considering how to comply with the court ruling.
Ed Friedman, the lead plaintiff in the court suit against the PUC, said at mid-day that he hadn’t had time to study the decision. He was pleased that the health and safety issues were upheld, but disappointed to see the constitutional concerns dismissed.
Friedman called on the PUC to conduct full hearings in which experts could be called to testify on the health and safety matters.
“I don’t think there’s any way they (the PUC) can assure safety,” he said.
Many utilities around the world are moving to smart meters, which can give customers more information about their energy use patterns and allow power companies to pinpoint problems during outages.
But opponents say the radio-frequency radiation emitted by the wireless meters can cause health problems, and are an invasion of privacy because of the information they collect.
In an effort to address those concerns, the PUC allows customers to opt out of having the meters, if they pay a $12-per-month fee to cover the cost of alternative equipment and meter readers.
Following the court decision, the PUC released the following statement:
"The commission is reviewing the order to determine what if any process is required to comply; we haven't reached a decision on what that process will be; and we can't speculate about what the ultimate result could be. Any decision about process will be determined by commissioners
in a public session."
CMP said in a statement that the court didn't order a stay, so the decision doesn't have any immediate effect on the company's operations. The utility said it would continue installing the remaining equipment while it awaits action by the PUC.
"The (smart meter) system is largely in place and we are using it on a daily basis," said John Carroll, a company spokesman.