Saturday, May 25, 2013
By Tux Turkel firstname.lastname@example.org
PORTLAND - Maine's Public Utilities Commission failed to resolve health and safety issues related to Central Maine Power Co.'s installation of "smart meters" and should do so now, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court has ruled.
In a decision released Thursday, the court sided with opponents of the new-technology digital meters, who argued that regulators ignored their legal mandate to ensure the delivery of safe and reasonable utility services.
At the same time, the court didn't agree with the view of opponents that the meters violate constitutional issues related to privacy and trespass.
Following a PUC order in 2010, CMP began switching out its 615,000 analog meters with smart meters. The $200 million project, which received half of its funding 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 it is considering how to comply with the ruling.
Ed Friedman, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against the PUC, said 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 hold full hearings in which experts could be called to testify on the health and safety matters.
"I don't think there's any way (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.
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 monthly fee to cover the cost of alternative equipment and meter readers.
After the court decision, the PUC said in a prepared statement that it "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 will 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.
Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at: