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Citizens sound off about smart meter
PARIS — Paris residents loudly voiced concerns and suspicions about a new metering system during a meeting of the board of selectmen on Monday.
"For you to monitor when I'm using it, how I'm using it," said resident Robert Ripley. "You can shut it off with remote control. You can brown me out. That just gets right into Big Brother. And I don't know if I appreciate that."
He and others in the audience expressed unhappiness with the idea that information about their personal usage would be gathered.
Suzanne Bussiere of Central Maine Power (CMP) stimulated the discussion when she gave a presentation on the company's controversial shift to "smart meters," a technologically-advanced system that will allow electricity use to be monitored and billed for remotely.
Last week, the Public Utilities Commission ruled that CMP must provide an opt-out option for customers who are wary of the new meters. The cost of staying with an older meter is $12.50 per month, plus a $40 upfront fee.
Most of the comments and questions were critical of the new technology.
Resident Franca Ainsworth alluded to health concerns associated with the meter during a question and answer session conducted by Bussiere.
"I don't particularly care to have a large corporation decide on my behalf something that may or may not be harmful to us," said Ainsworth. "You say it won't be. How do you know?"
During Bussiere's presentation, she circulated materials that documented the levels of radio frequency, and demonstrate that the signals associated with a smart meter are much weaker than those of televisions, cell phones, cordless phones, radios, or the background rate produced by the Earth.
Ainsworth also expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of customer input into the decision by CMP to make the switch.
"Did the company canvass the customers [to ask] whether we wanted this change?" she asked.
Ainsworth also said she was "kind of annoyed" that a meter reader had sawed off a branch from her hydrangea bush. Bussier asked if she had called the company to report the incident, which Ainsworth indicated she had not.
"Understand that when the new meters go in, he's not going to be there anymore," said Bussiere.
Bussiere noted that, beginning in the middle of June, residents should expect to see installation workers wearing unusual attire.
"The contractor just chose to do coveralls. Either a hood or a full face-shield is their choice. Some of them wear a breathing mask," said Bussiere. "... So when they're seen in the community, people think they look like exterminators or they're delivering biohazardous waste somewhere, but that's just the safety gear."
Some residents argued against the pricing model for opting out.
"Why is there a $40 charge upfront when you're not doing anything?" asked resident Robert Ripley. "I understand the $12.50, because you have a guy coming to my house. But I don't understand the $40."
Bussiere responded that the PUC had developed the fee schedule, and that she was not sure about the reasoning behind the upfront cost.
"I'm sure the fee came from someone at CMP," said Ripley.
"Actually, it really didn't," said Bussiere. She reiterated that it had been developed by the PUC as a part of a review process set in motion by customer complaints.
Several members of the audience expressed unhappiness when Bussiere addressed the issue of how the new meters would impact electricity bills. She noted that the new meters would pick up ambient electricity usage, such as that produced by the light on a power strip, or a digital clock on a coffee maker.
"The new meters are very, very sensitive. The meter on your home now ... they get dirty inside, the dial slows down," said Bussiere.
"That means it's going up," called people in the audience.
Selectman Lloyd Herrick said that he was concerned that the fee system was being developed based in part on a $96 million federal grant that CMP received to help fund the transition.
Herrick said that the grant, which came from taxpayers, was creating an artificial situation that was being used to set rates.
"In fact this grant is federal taxpayers' dollars and it's going to Central Maine Power," said Herrick. "... for the PUC to come up with a fee structure when it was a grant coming from taxpayers, I just think it's bad business. ... The taxpayer gets the short end of the deal on both ends. They foster the grant, and now they have to pay for the fees."
One audience member complained that electricity in Maine costs 14 percent higher than in other states across the country.
Bussiere said that Maine prices, "one of the highest in the country," are a result of failed deregulation policies.
"It took away all the competition," said Bussiere. "When we were generating our own power prior to 2000, our energy prices were a lot lower than what they are now. Now you can't even get suppliers to come into the state because the load is not one that they want to even bid on. ... Deregulation should have brought in competition for lower pricing. It's not working that way."
Ripley attacked a 'Time of Use' pricing directive from PUC, under which CMP would offer different rates during different times of day. He said that it would result in added costs, and accused the company of using the smart meters to facilitate price-gouging.
"You're gonna monitor when I'm using power, on exactly what times and exactly what date," said Ripley. "So the price is higher when people are getting home and cooking supper and taking showers. I can't see anybody in this room except the very slight few ever saving money when you're going to smart meters."
Board Chair Ray Glover eventually called for an end to the discussion, citing the large amount of other business before the board that needed to be addressed.
The last comment was from a citizen who offered advice to his fellow audience members.
"For those that are really disgruntled about this thing, there's always residential windmills and solar," he said.