This summer I had the opportunity to spend several weeks researching the contentious issues surrounding the wireless “smart” meters that Central Maine Power is installing all over its coverage area.

Often I already have an opinion on a subject when I begin researching it, but in the case of smart meters I did not. I knew they were controversial, that some people believe they pose serious health and safety threats, but I really didn’t know what I thought.

The Public Utilities Commission had mandated an opt-out for CMP customers, so what I was really trying to decide as I did my research for a magazine article was whether we should have a smart meter installed on our house or not.

After interviewing CMP officials, smart-meter opponents, PUC members and staff, and scientists pro and con; reading reams of reports and orders and websites, I came to the conclusion that people worried about the impact of wireless smart meters have legitimate concerns. But I still decided to let CMP (or rather its contractor) replace my old mechanical meter with a smart meter.

While I do not believe that CMP has done an adequate job informing its customers and the general public about the issues raised by smart-meter technology (individual sensitivity to radio-frequency exposure, possible links to cancer, interference with other wireless devices, privacy and private property issues, billing errors that can arise from remote reporting of electricity use, etc.), I do believe that, in the words of CMP spokesman John Carroll, CMP “kind of walked into a wireless debate.”

The problem is not smart meters, it’s ubiquitous wireless technology.

I sit here all day next to a wireless router that enables family members to use laptop computers all over the house. I walk around all day with a cell phone in my pocket and, when I use it, I hold it up to my head. Cafes, hotels, libraries and schools increasingly have Wi-Fi networks. Heck, RF waves somehow manage to find our wireless devices in cars speeding down the turnpike and atop Mt. Katahdin. There is no escape from wireless.

Smart meter opponents point out that most other forms of wireless technology are voluntary and that people sensitive to RF can limit their exposure. Smart meters are on all the time. In a city, even if you don’t have a smart meter, you may get zapped by your neighbor’s meter.

Believing that wireless technology is inescapable, I did not opt out of the smart meter program, but I probably would have if not for the financial penalty for doing so. Should you decide, for whatever reason, that you do not want a smart meter broadcasting from your home, the PUC has authorized CMP to charge you a one-time fee of $40 plus $12 a month. That’s $144 a year for life to avoid a possible health risk. Some smart-meter opponents call that extortion.

I wouldn’t go that far, but given all the unanswered questions about smart meters, I do believe that the financial penalty for opting out should be eliminated. You shouldn’t have to pay to not get something.

CMP fears that if opting out were free, so many customers might do so that the smart-meter network would have too many holes to function effectively. If that turns out to be the case, so be it. A little less radiation in our lives wouldn’t be a bad thing.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.