SCARBOROUGH — Central Maine Power Co. has asked the Maine Public Utilities Commission to dismiss two complaints intended to short-circuit the company’s installation of “smart” electrical meters on homes and businesses throughout southern Maine.

Last week, the utility asked the PUC to dismiss one complaint, which claimed the new meters could cause fires in homes with older wiring, as “clearly unreasonable.”

On Wednesday, CMP filed a response to another complaint, filed by Scarborough resident Elisa Boxer-Cook and 11 other residents, who cited health and cyber security concerns about the wirelessly networked meters.

The response contains expert testimony from three physicians who said the meters operate in compliance with federal guidelines that limit radio frequency exposure and are appropriate for protection of human health. “There is no scientific basis to conclude that adverse health effects would occur,” they said.

In the initial complaint, several local doctors provided testimony of their own arguing that not enough research has been done on the technology and that there were people in the area diagnosed with sensitivity to the radiation the meters emit.

“Local doctors who have nothing to gain financially are coming out asking for the project to be slowed down,” Boxer-Cook said Thursday, “while CMP’s hired scientists from out of state are saying smart meters are healthy and dismissing our concerns.”

Boxer-Cook said the majority of the data CMP’s expert testimony cites comes from Exponent, a California engineering company that has come under fire from critics for delivering results that companies want to hear, including providing tobacco companies with testimony that second-hand smoke does not cause cancer.

“All of the health testimony has come from this firm that has a reputation for minimizing health risks,” Boxer-Cook said. 

In addition to expert testimony, CMP stated that the complainants’ argument that not enough research had been done was “flat wrong.”

“The agency responsible for ensuring the safety of such devices (namely the FCC) has extensively and repeatedly reviewed the issue of safety and set standards which these devices meet,” the response states.

The company said it received more than 400 inquiries about health and safety concerns from customers and municipalities, including the towns of Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Gorham, Portland, Scarborough, South Portland, Westbrook and Yarmouth, and that is has been responsive to those concerns.

CMP also argued that allowing people to opt out of the service will render the technology “inoperable.”

“That is not true,” Boxer-Cook said. “People could be hard-wired if they wanted to be.”

A hard-wired smart meter communicates through the phone lines, Boxer-Cook said, and does not emit radiation or carry as many cyber security risks.

“At least let people choose,” she said.

Now that the company has made its argument, the PUC will consider both sides and decide whether to dismiss the complaints or open an investigation.

Meanwhile, the smart meters have been installed on more than 70,000 homes and businesses.

After the Scarborough Town Council passed a resolution in October asking for a 90-day moratorium on the installation of the meters, CMP agreed to hold a public meeting to speak with residents about their concerns.

In the Nov. 17 response to Boxer-Cook’s complaint, CMP said the company offered to provide information, however that “the (Scarborough) Council voted their resolution that evening without requesting any additional information or a briefing from CMP.”

The public meeting has been scheduled for Nov. 29 at 7 p.m. at Scarborough Town Hall. The format has not been decided, but members of the public will be invited to speak and representatives from CMP will be there to answer questions and respond.

The towns of Cape Elizabeth and Sanford have passed similar resolutions, however public forums have not been scheduled.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or [email protected]

Sidebar Elements

South Portland to discuss concerns about meters

By Randy Billings

SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council will hold a workshop at 7 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 22, in the Community Center about the installation of so-called “smart” electric meters in the city.

Mayor Tom Coward said the workshop was requested by two councilors and that Central Maine Power Co. has agreed to send a representative to the meeting.

In late October, a handful of residents asked the council to consider adopting a resolution calling on CMP to halt the installation of smart meters.

CMP began installing the devices last month. They allow the company to collect electricity usage without sending readers to each home, which saves the company money.

Instead, energy usage is transmitted via a non-ionized radio wave frequency, similar to a cell phone or wireless router. The information is sent up to six times per hour.

Some residents of South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough are concerned about potential health effects from the radiation given off by the meters, as well as the possibility of identify theft.

Residents are calling on councilors to follow Scarborough and Cape Elizabeth in instituting a 90-day moratorium on installations. The company is honoring Scarborough’s request until it holds a meeting later this month.

But Coward said the city cannot regulate CMP.

Meanwhile, as of Nov. 4, CMP had already installed about half of the 13,000 meters destined for the city.

“If we pass a resolution, CMP is not going to come and take all the meters out of South Portland,” the mayor said.

Coward, who is keeping his smart meter, noted that residents in Scarborough have already filed a complaint with the Public Utilities Commission.

Concerned residents can join that complaint or file their own with the PUC, he said, or ask the company to remove meters that have already been installed until the commission rules.

Coward said there has been no specific resolution submitted to consider on Monday. The meeting will allow councilors and residents to get more information, he said.

Councilor Rosemarie De Angelis was one of the councilors pushing for the workshop, since constituents began e-mailing the city in late October.

Although the city cannot regulate CMP and residents may request the company either not install or remove meters that have already been installed, De Angelis said the meeting is nonetheless important.

“I think that with the alarm and response from residents, we have a duty to hold this workshop,” she said. “There are both health and safety concerns as well as security issues. I am getting numerous calls on this and support that we should have an open dialog.”

The resolution will have no binding authority, but De Angelis said she hopes it will be an educational tool.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]

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