Saturday, March 8, 2014
(Continued from page 1)
In this file photo, a Central Maine Power smart meter displays electricity usage at a business in Freeport in late 2010. An independent study of radio-frequency emissions from CMP's smart meters has found maximum exposure levels that are far below what the Federal Communications Commission considers safe.
But a small, vocal minority of customers isn't interested in those features. They say the radio-frequency radiation emitted by the wireless meters can cause health problems that include sleep loss and dizziness, and invade 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 monthly fee to cover the cost of alternative equipment and meter readers. Roughly 8,300 customers have made that choice.
A key benchmark of the study is the radio-frequency limit that the FCC defines as Maximum Permissible Exposure for a person. At the frequency used by CMP's smart meters, the limit for the general public is one milliwatt per square centimeter.
Measuring these emissions from smart meters was complicated, True North Associates said in its report. The data sent from individual meters to the network takes place in short bursts that last only a few milliseconds. The majority of the activity happens between midnight and 1:30 a.m.
The study estimated that roughly 99 percent of CMP's meters broadcast up to 8.6 seconds a day. One meter, which relays information from several other meters, had a total broadcast time of 3.5 minutes a day.
Friedman said these findings were expected. Opponents declined an invitation to participate in the study because they simply feel the FCC limits don't address the real problems. For reasons that are not clear, Friedman said, smart meters seem to sensitize some people to problems with other wireless devices, such as routers for home computers. That's why more study is needed on the impact of exposing people to radio-frequency waves, he said.
If that's the issue, responded Carroll at CMP, smart-meter opponents should take their case to cellphone makers and other industries that make wireless devices.
Smart meters are already saving ratepayers money, Carroll said. Roughly 98 percent of billing information now is being transmitted over the meters, eliminating the need for 50,000 meter reader visits during the last eight months of 2012. By contrast, spending a year on a debate at the PUC is a waste of ratepayer money, he said.
"They should be debating this with the FCC," Carroll said. "Is Maine the place to have the debate over those standards?"
In the last two months, utility regulators in Texas and Vermont also have made public a study on the health effects of smart meters. The Vermont study found the highest level of exposure to be 3.9 percent of the FCC's safety limit. In Texas, a review of scientific research by the PUC staff found "no credible evidence" to suggest that advanced meters emit emissions in harmful amounts.
Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at: