A Bowdoinham man is suing Central Maine Power over the fee to opt out of the utility’s smart meters.

Ed Friedman filed his complaint in federal court this week. He claims the monthly fee discriminates against people who do not want to use the smart meters because of a medical condition or disability.

Friedman, who is a longtime opponent of the smart meters, has a form of cancer called lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma. The complaint says his doctor has advised him to avoid exposure to radiation, and he does not want to use the wireless meter because he is concerned that it will exacerbate his health problems.

“To Plaintiff, avoiding the opt-out fee is not merely a financial consideration,” the complaint says. “The fee means being reminded every single month of how his cancer is affecting him, and how the cancer is limiting him and causing him to have to do things he does not want to do.”

CMP spokeswoman Catharine Hartnett said the utility could not comment on the specifics of the lawsuit.

Smart meters transmit information about electricity use through wireless technology that emits radio frequency radiation, similar to a cellphone. They are increasingly the standard for utilities around the world, but they have been criticized by those who believe they cause health problems and raise privacy concerns.

At least one study in Maine showed the radiation exposure from the smart meters was well within the limit considered safe by the federal government. The American Cancer Society has said it is unlikely that living in a house with a smart meter increases risk of cancer, and the low levels of energy from radio frequency radiation have not been clearly shown to cause health problems. However, that organization also said research specific to smart meters is lacking.

CMP began replacing analog meters with smart meters in 2010. The switch cost nearly $200 million, with half of that money coming from federal stimulus dollars. Early on, the Maine Public Utilities Commission required the company to establish an opt-out program. Hartnett said the PUC also set the formula that is still used to determine the fee for that program.

The monthly cost to opt out of the smart meters is currently $16.05, and a discount is available for people who have low incomes. CMP has more than 600,000 electricity customers in southern and central Maine. Hartnett said that roughly 5,500 – less than 1 percent – have decided not to use smart meters.

But even as the new meters were being installed and used by hundreds of thousands of customers, critics were fighting them in state court. They said the meters cause headaches, fatigue, loss of sleep and potentially cancer. They also argued the monthly fee was too high for some Mainers to afford and that customers should not have to pay extra to protect their health.

In 2016, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the meters pose no credible threat to health and safety. Friedman was a lead complainant in that case. This new complaint does not attempt to relitigate the safety of the meters themselves. Instead, it centers on the fee that customers can pay to opt out of the smart meter program and use a different type of meter.

Friedman brought his complaint under multiple federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“CMP charges the smart meter opt-out fee to everyone, and it is lawful as applied to non-disabled people,” the complaint says. “However, Plaintiff’s medical condition means he cannot have a smart meter at his home. Therefore, just as a wheelchair user requires a ramp for access to services, Plaintiff requires a non-radiation emitting meter for access to electricity. Plaintiff should not have to pay extra to access this in his own home.”

In the complaint, Friedman said he refused to pay the fee when he initially opted out. In 2016, CMP said his power would be disconnected if he did not pay more than $600 for the compounded opt-out fee and late fees. Friedman wrote to the utility and asked it to waive the fee due to his medical condition. CMP denied that request and disconnected his electricity.

Later that same year, Friedman’s oncologist wrote to the utility to support the request, saying he was concerned that sources of low-level radiation will exacerbate his patient’s health problems. The complaint says CMP did not change its answer, and Friedman has been disconnected from the service ever since. He filed the lawsuit because he would now like to reconnect but does not want to pay the opt-out fee.

Friedman wrote in an email that he had photovoltaic panels on his barn roof and enrolled in the net metering program while he was a CMP customer. When he disconnected from the utility, he converted to an off-grid system, but he wants to switch back because of the annual costs of propane for his backup generator.

The National Council of State Legislatures reported last year that utilities have installed more than 70 million smart meters covering over 90 percent of American households. But opposition to smart meters had prompted states to consider alternatives. The council said at least seven states have enacted policies that allow customers to opt out of the smart meters, and at least another 22 states have allowed public utility regulators to consider opt-out programs on a case-by-base basis.

The council also reported that most utilities do charge customers who elect to opt out, but the amount and structure of those fees vary widely.

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