Bill eliminates 'opt-out' fee for smart meters in Maine

AUGUSTA — The $12 fee that Central Maine Power charges customers who decide they don't want their power metered with a wireless device was the subject of more than six hours of testimony Tuesday.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Testimony on legislation that would prohibit utilities from charging extra if you decide you don't want a smart meter, like this Central Maine Power smart meter on a Lewiston home, was heard Tuesday by the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee in Augusta.

(AP Photo file photo/Joel Page)

Central Maine Power technician Gary Sturgis installs one of the first smart meters in September 2010 at an apartment building in Portland. Testimony on legislation that would prohibit utilities from charging extra if you decide you don't want a smart meter, like this Central Maine Power smart meter on a Lewiston home, was heard Tuesday by the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee in Augusta.

Lawmakers on the Legislature's Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee heard from those who said the technology poses a health and safety risk and those who said it's essential to creating a smart grid that will save energy and money over time.

A bill, LD 826, sponsored by Rep. Roberta Beavers, D-South Berwick, would prohibit a utility from charging customers who decide they don't want wireless smart meters installed.  

So far, about 8,500 CMP customers have chosen to "opt out" of the smart meter program, said David Allen, a CMP lobbyist who spoke against Beavers' bill Tuesday.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission has allowed CMP to charge those customers a $40, one-time fee followed by a $12-a-month service charge. 

Opponents to the technology, many of whom say the devices present a danger to health because of the electromagnetic fields emitted by radio transmitters, turned out in force to testify in favor of the measure.

Elisa Boxer, a Scarborough resident, said she asked the PUC and CMP to grant her a medical waiver for the fee because her doctor told her to eliminate all sources of microwave radiation to help her migraine headaches.

When the utility refused, Boxer became an activist against the devices which she said Tuesday are listed as a possible source of cancer by the World Health Organization. 

"I'm not here to tell anyone not to use their cellphones or Wi-Fi," Boxer said, "nor am I here to debate the science." 

Boxer said she was grateful she was allowed to keep her old analog meter but resents paying do do so.

"Paying that $12 a month to decrease my proximity to radiation classified by the World Health Organization as a possible human carcinogen feels just plain wrong," she said. "DDT (a pesticide) is in the same category. I'd feel the same way about paying to opt out of spraying DDT on my house. And, similarly, even if I did pay, I'd still be exposed."

Beavers said she was bringing the bill because the PUC never conducted public hearings on the fees, there was not proof that ratepayers were saving because of smart meters and "some citizens have actually reported increases in their bills since having smart meters forced on them."

She said other consequences from smart meters have been brought to her attention by citizens, including those with pacemakers, implanted cardiac defibrillators and other electronic devices and people with sensitivities to electronics of any kind. 

CMP installed smart meters with the aid of a $96 million federal stimulus grant starting in 2010. The grant paid for about half the cost of the program.

But the devices, meant to help create a more efficient energy grid, have not been without controversy. 

Allen, the CMP lobbyist, on Tuesday told the committee the fee helped cover the costs CMP incurs to its system because the smart meters work together in a network. When one is removed, it creates a hole in that network and CMP often has to install a "repeater" device to make up for the missing smart meter.

Allen disputed statements from opponents who said the devices caused health problems and said the science on electromagnetic radiation at low levels was inconclusive.  He said smart meters lower operational costs to the utility and thus, to the ratepayer. 

"Before we had smart meters, we sent meter readers out to do 100,000 off-cycle reads a year," Allen said. Those off-cycle reads were beyond the regular monthly reads done by meter readers.

He said the meters also benefit the grid because outages can be pinpointed remotely, with more accuracy, and repaired more quickly.

"All in all, opt-out customers reduce the effectiveness and efficiency of the system and increase the cost of the system," Allen said.

He pointed to a law passed by the Legislature in 2009 that essentially mandated the use of the devices in the creation of a "smart grid."

But even lawmakers who supported that bill said they were skeptical that the measure required CMP customers to use a device they didn't want.

"There was no requirement that everyone opt in," said Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, a co-sponsor of the smart-grid law. "I need to be convinced, frankly, that those folks, for whatever their rationale is and their reasoning, should have to pay extra money."

Allen said Vermont recently overturned an opt-out fee for electricity users and the number of people asking to have the meters removed went up.

About 1 percent of CMP customers have decided to pay the fee to not have smart meters on their homes. That number is closer to 4 percent in Vermont, Allen said.

Other supporters of the bill said the smart meters allowed CMP to collect "intimate data" on electricity use that could later be sold to other entities.

Kathleen McGee of Winthrop said the fee was "extortive"

"Smart meters are essentially a government-mandated surveillance device," McGee said. "The only way to keep my detailed, personal and I would say intimate daily activities from corporate profit and government intrusion is to pay the opt-out."

Allen disputed that, saying the data wasn't detailed and the data that was shared across the system was encrypted. CMP only collected data on the total power consumed each day, he said.

But Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington said he didn't believe CMP would see large numbers of people ask to have their smart meters removed if the fee were eliminated.

Harvell said some would see the fee as a bargain and the fee was unlikely a barrier or incentive for those who were really worried about health or privacy issues.

"A person, for $12 a month is going to jeopardize their health and they are going to jeopardize their privacy?" Harvell asked Allen. "Most people who have migraine headaches would throw $12 on the table to get rid of them tomorrow. And a lot of people, if for $12 they could get the government off their back. We would all be reaching into our pockets."

sthistle@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Penny Gray's picture

In a state that's clamoring

In a state that's clamoring for jobs, it seems hypocritical to cheer the loss of most of our meter readers, and for what? Does anyone really know? Yes, CMP saves money on their payroll, but what does the average Mainer gain?

Jason Theriault's picture

Well

First off - they can respond to power outages quicker.

But I think the best thing will be if they can implement different rates for different times. Power should be cheaper at night when peak demand has passed. That could be some real savings for residential consumers.

Penny Gray's picture

Agreed that off peak power

Agreed that off peak power should be cheaper, but most folks understand that concept without a meter having to instruct them.

Jason Theriault's picture

Glad you brought it up

It got me to take a look at the smart meter benefits, and they now have online power monitoring, so I will be able to track my usage.

And that the point - tracking power usage will be easier for them, so they can implement better rate structures.
And lower system wide costs by using less people to read meters.

Yes, that means less jobs, but by that thinking, we should stop using the internet because email and forums like this one reduce USPS workflow, making them to lay off people.

Jason Theriault's picture

Elisa Boxer is just a silly,

Elisa Boxer is just a silly, uninformed person. But she is right, DDT would be in the same catagory as ELF, because there is no real evidence that it causes cancer. DDT has very little reaction to people, but can be devastating to the environment.

Matter of fact, right now, the WHO is recommending spraying DDT in Africa to lower malaria transmission.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/15/AR200609...

CMP should move ahead offering variable rates(nighttime vs daytime) to smart meter users. I bet that would quiet alot of the critics.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

There will always be "Paranoia".......

There are people who will actually get physically sick at the mere mention of germs in the air. Then there are the people who are convinced having a "Smart Meter" on the side of their home will cause certain death. What I'd like to know is how, removing the meter from the side of their home, will somehow make it safer? Microwave signals don't travel strait up, the key word here is travel. The "Smart Meter" is just the source of the micro wave signal. That wouldn't hurt you in the first place, unless maybe if you were sitting on it. Now you have the "Smart Meter" removed to protect you health. The other neighbors in your neighborhood, who have come to the realization that we all start dying anyway, the day we're born, have opted to throw caution to the wind, and use the "Smart Meters". Where do you think their microwave signals are going to travel. Remember they don't just go strait up.
One other thing, If microwaves were harmful, how much protection would opting out of the "Smart Meter" program actually be? If I cared to take the time, I could spend half the day listing items in your home that transmit, microwaves. Just an example of the less obvious ones. My truck has an air pressure monitoring system in it. It checks the tire pressures in all my tires, even the spare, then transmits the information via microwave signal to a computer in the front of the vehicle. Guess who's sitting smack dab in the middle between the spare tire and the computer? It performs this little trick thousands of time during a long trip, never thought of things like that, I'll bet?
You would need to live in a virtual vacuum to avoid life's little perceived threats to your health. I say, be a little crazy, take a chance for a change. Use the "Smart Meter". Now that those who opt out, don't have to pay for the privilege, who do you think is going to make up the difference??????????

Virginia  Penney's picture

smart meters

They are smart because they save the company a lot of money. Think of all the people who once had a job doing this and have now been replaced by technology. another big company creating jobs? Think of the payroll, liability, health insurance, etc that this company saved. Must have been a good size chunk of change. Did Anyone see their electric bell drop by that amount?

Leo Camire's picture

Smart Meters ?

Well here in Andover they are not so smart. Have had one for some time now and CMP still has to send someone out to read it every Month. I asked the Reader Person the last time he was here reading my meter and he told me it was just my meter. But he walked to every meter on the road to read them. Some places he had to use snow shoes to get to them. So how are they so smart ?

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

They smarted you too...

They are receiving an extra 12 bucks a month. I have one and you are correct, the meter guy still has to walk over the area on my street to retrieve the readings. I have a 6 foot fence with dobermans and they needed to get in to the yard years ago. I would then have to leave the gate unlatched to let them in or get them to send me a SWAG...Scientific Wild Ass Guess...

The SWAG was nicer, no extra cost added from them to do the same thing they did before, walking the turf. Technology has it advantages and then again it saved the company money and gave them an edge to charge you more. They should pay us by saving them money....

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

They smarted you too...

They are receiving an extra 12 bucks a month. I have one and you are correct, the meter guy still has to walk over the area on my street to retrieve the readings. I have a 6 foot fence with dobermans and they needed to get in to the yard years ago. I would then have to leave the gate unlatched to let them in or get them to send me a SWAG...Scientific Wild Ass Guess...

The SWAG was nicer, no extra cost added from them to do the same thing they did before, walking the turf. Technology has it advantages and then again it saved the company money and gave them an edge to charge you more. They should pay us by saving them money....

Robert McQueeney's picture

There is some justification for the fee

If one has a "smart" meter, a meter reader does not have to physically visit the site and read the meter. It can be done at the office. There is a cost to having an employee go out to read the meter. It can be paid for by the person who requests the old style meter, or the cost can be spread out to everyone who uses power.

Why should the person who requests an old style meter not expect to pay for the labor to have someone visit her house once a month to read the meter? I experience lower electrical bills by having a smart meter as CMP does not bill me for the cost to have someone visit my house once a month. If I were to demand that they do so, I would never expect them to do so for free. It's a service and there is always a fee for service. It costs money, somewhere, somehow.

Take a look at the photo associated with this article. There is a bank of meters all serving some multiple residence or business. I have seen and noticed this in several areas. Invariably, there always seems to be one person's meter which is an old style meter. With about 20 smart meters right next to it, any health benefits, perceived or real, are negated. The only way you can receive any health benefits is to have your own home, separate from neighbors.

Again, it costs money to have a meter reader come out and read your meter once a month. Why would anyone expect it to be free, when every cost associated with a public utility is scrutinized. If you want an old style, labor intensive meter, you should expect to have to pay for the extra labor.

For those with real, verifiable, note from the doctor, health issues in their own homes, I am hoping CMP would find a way to work with such people, somehow. For folks in an apartment complex, with a bank of smart meters next to their old style labor intensive meters, please reconsider any perceived health benefits. I'm not sure what best to recommend.

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