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Smart Meter opt-out options weighed
AREA — Residents may be able to opt-out of smart meters, but it will cost them more, if a plan developed by the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC), is implemented.
The PUC, which regulates Central Maine Power (CMP), outlined a plan that would provide options for those uncomfortable with smart meters, but require them to pay to keep their old meters.
The report, filed in response to complaints from Maine residents that raised concerns over the health and safety of the new meters, suggested two opt-out options. CMP customers could keep their traditional meters and pay $40 up front and an additional $12 per month, or have a new meter installed with the wireless transmitter turned off. The second option would involve a $20 charge up front and $10.50 per month. In both cases, a meter reader would visit every other month.
The report also suggested that those customers who qualify for Low-Income Heating Assistance could be eligible for reduced rates.
CMP has maintained throughout the process that smart meters are safe and that an opt out plan is unnecessary. Representatives from the power provider have been visiting towns and attempting to dispel fears raised by Maine residents over potential health problems associated with the meters' wireless transmitters.
"We don't necessarily see the value in [an opt-out]," said CMP spokesman John Carroll. "We think our program is well-designed and we think it's appropriate technology."
A CMP representative gave a presentation on the safety and benefits of the program at a Norway selectmen's meeting on Thursday, April 21, and distributed information to members of the board. The packet included the results of a study from an independent contractor on radio frequency emissions. It found that radio frequency emissions from cell phones are 12,667 greater than those produced by smart meters and that the human body emits 20 times more radio frequency than a smart meter.
Citizens, as well as some of the Norway selectmen, have also raised concerns about safety equipment worn by technicians from CMP.
Carroll, however, said that the suits were a safety precaution to protect installers from the rare occurrence of an electrical flash, similar to those one might see when unplugging a running appliance.
"If you ever unplug something still operating, sometimes you'll see a spark. That's because there's a lot of current being drawn. Depending on how much current is being drawn in the house when you pull the meter, you can get that same spark," said Carroll. "It's very rare, I haven't heard of it happening at any point so far, but it can happen, so as a matter of safety we just say, this is how you need to protect yourself."
"The reality is, we change 15-17 thousand meters a year when we're not doing this project. We take them out to test them, we take them out to replace them. Our people always wear protection."
The PUC, did not rule on the validity of health concerns, but only on the feasibility of an opt-out plan.
Its report found that charges to those who chose to opt-out were necessary to recover the costs incurred by CMP to read and maintain its meters.
PUC Commissioners will be reviewing the plan after both CMP and the complainants file responses to the analysis on Thursday, April 28. Following public discussions, the commissioners will rule on whether to allow an opt-out, and if so, how to execute it.
Until a final decision is reached, CMP has been allowing individuals to refuse the smart meters. Carroll said that 175,000 have been installed so far, and roughly 3.5 percent of those approached have asked not to have the new meter.