Wednesday, April 23, 2014
HALLOWELL — Central Maine Power Co. customers who don't want wireless smart meters installed at their homes and businesses will have options, following a landmark decision at the Maine Public Utilities Commission.
People can opt out of the program by keeping their existing, analog meters, or having a modified smart meter installed with its wireless transmitter turned off, the PUC decided. Customers also have the option of moving a wireless smart meter to another location on their property.
Both CMP and the PUC say they're unaware of any other state where utility regulators have approved a smart-meter opt out plan, although one is being considered in California. Because smart meters have become controversial around the country among a vocal and well-organized minority of customers, today's decision was expected to be watched closely elsewhere.
The plan was approved during deliberations on a consolidated smart-meter complaint case by two of the three PUC commissioners, Vendean Vafiades and David Littell. The PUC's new chairman, Thomas Welch, most recently worked for a law firm that represented CMP and didn't participate in the decision.
The choices approved in Maine come with costs, however, that must be paid by the customers who want to opt out. Choosing a digital smart meter with the wireless transmitter turned off will carry an initial charge of $20, plus a monthly charge of $10.50. Keeping an existing mechanical meter will cost $40 upfront, plus $12 a month. The cost of relocating an existing meter is highly variable, but typically expensive.
Low-income residents can qualify for a subsidy that could pay up to half the opt-out cost.
The costs are likely to be adjusted over time, depending on how many customers ultimately want something other than a standard smart meter. An estimated 7,000 people – just over 1 percent of all customers – so far have asked not to have the new meters installed at their homes and businesses. CMP will continue to honor these requests until a formal opt-out process is put in place.
CMP will explain to customers how to exercise these options in the near future, on its website and through other means. The company is asking customers not to call about the procedure until details become available.
"We're just glad to be able to move ahead," said John Carroll, a CMP spokesman.
CMP had strongly objected to offering any options, saying they would be costly and dilute the effectiveness of the technology for the vast majority of customers who want smart meters. In the end, the company chose not to appeal the decision and deferred to the PUC, saying it was up to regulators to set the policy for smart meters.
Smart meter opponents, who had mobilized scores of residents to contact state officials about their concerns, were generally pleased with the commission's action.
"I'm happy it has reached a conclusion," said Suzanne Foley-Ferguson of Scarborough, one of the intervenors.
Foley-Ferguson had argued that all ratepayers should help pay the cost of opting out, unless the PUC could determine that the meters were safe.
"At least we got the existing meter option," she said.
Elisa Boxer-Cook, the Scarborough activist who spearheaded the opposition, said her priority now was helping residents become educated about their choices.
"I think it's really important that people do their homework," she said.
Boxer-Cook suggested a Website maintained by opponents:
The PUC's action comes seven months after CMP began its effort to replace 600,000 mechanical electricity meters with wireless digital meters. The $200 million project is receiving half of its funding from the federal government, part of a push to upgrade the nation's power grid.
(Continued on page 2)