AUGUSTA — The Maine Public Utilities Commission announced Tuesday that it will investigate Central Maine Power Co.’s installation of “smart” electric meters.

The probe was sought in complaints asking the regulatory agency to require CMP to offer customers a formal opt-out provision. It will determine if CMP’s repeated refusal to offer such an option is “unreasonable, insufficient or unjustly discriminatory,” the PUC said in a press release.

“I think more than anything, it’s a reasonable scope that they’d like us to evaluate,” CMP spokesman John Carroll said.

Carroll said the company would look into the possible effects of a hybrid system, where some customers had smart meters and others had hard-wired meters.

“We’ve never looked at it that way because of the obvious inefficiencies of it,” he said. “We’ll need to look at what will be lost on the customer and system levels, and obviously we’ll have to put costs on those.”

Several Scarborough residents filed the complaints, citing possible health risks associated with the radiation emitted by the meters, as well as concerns over cybersecurity and fire risks.

“I’m thrilled. Choice is what we’ve wanted all along,” lead complainant Elisa Boxer-Cook said of the PUC’s decision to launch an investigation. “While CMP has spent time, money and energy trying to convince customers why we shouldn’t have health, safety, security or privacy concerns, it’s great to see the PUC stepping up and acknowledging those concerns are real and valid.”

Boxer-Cook said that in addition to the PUC’s investigation, she is aware of four state lawmakers who are drafting legislation to force CMP to offer an opt-out to its customers.

“A lot of people are concerned about privacy issues,” Boxer-Cook said.

She said state Reps. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough, Ben Chipman, U-Portland, Andrea Boland, D-Sanford and John Tuttle, D-Sanford, are drafting legislation.

The Scarborough Town Council recently sent a letter to CMP asking the company to offer an opt-out provision and to notify Scarborough customers when the company begins smart meter installations in town.

Carroll said the installation in Scarborough is scheduled for early February and that the company would notify the town, which it has done for all the towns where installations have taken place, but that it would not be sending individual notifications to all of its customers.

He also said the company is honoring any opt-out requests made by individual customers and would continue to do so during the PUC investigation.

CMP is poised to install 620,000 wireless smart meters on home and business customers in Maine by early 2012. The company received $96 million in federal stimulus money to purchase and install the smart-meter technology. Approximately 90,000 smart meters have already been installed in southern Maine.

“This isn’t something that CMP decided on its own to do,” Carroll said. “We’re following state policy, federal policy. We’re trying to meet the expectations of the commission and the federal agencies that have funded this project.”

Carroll said the potential benefits of the smart grid to residential and small-business customers, who will be able to take advantage of variable electricity rates already offered to large businesses, could produce significant savings and positive environmental impacts.

“We want to protect the integrity of the system so these benefits will be there for our customers,” Carroll said.

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

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