AUGUSTA — Central Maine Power Co. has asked the Maine Public Utilities Commission to dismiss one of two complaints filed in October by residents concerned about the safety of “smart” electric meters being installed on every CMP customer’s home or business.
The complaint, filed Oct. 26 by Averyl Hill of Scarborough and signed by 11 CMP customers, asked the PUC to investigate alleged fire safety hazards associated with installations of the new meters on homes with old wiring. It also questioned the level of training provided to employees of the company CMP has hired to do the work.
“Because I had a new breaker box and wiring leading up to the meter installed by a licensed electrician last year and inspected by the town I believe I am OK,” Hill said. “But it got me thinking about the fact that there are many aging homes in southern Maine with older wiring, so it could affect a lot of people and be an unexpected expense for homeowners.”
CMP’s response, submitted Nov. 4, called the complaint “clearly unreasonable” and without merit because it was “inconsistent with applicable statues, rules and tariffs.”
The response argues that “the Complaint is not a complaint against the installation of new Smart Meters, but rather is a complaint as to a utility’s underlying right to replace meters or perform any type of disconnection.”
It goes on to explain that the complainants cite disruption of electrical wires as the reason for the alleged fire hazards. CMP asserts that the complainants are arguing that the company should not be able to disconnect a customer under any circumstance, something that it says it is allowed to do by law.
In a letter sent to the PUC on Nov. 5, Hill addressed CMP’s argument: “None of the complainants contested the right of CMP to replace meters in homes with older wiring.”
Hill explained that it was the combination of a potential fire hazard and advertisements by the meter installation company, VSI, that it would hire installation technicians without experience or electricians’ licenses, that were the origins of the complaint. She asked that the PUC determine how VSI’s employees would be trained before allowing CMP to continue the installation process.
“I would like to see CMP have a published and clear policy on their procedures for dealing with old wiring and smart meter installations and have that sent to homeowners in advance, alerting them to the potential expense and problem,” Hill said. She added that she volunteers with the elderly and worries that older customers might not be able to afford to replace wiring in their homes, leaving them without electricity during the winter.
In its response, CMP stated that, prior to the smart meter project, the company conducted more than 17,000 regular meter installations per year.
“The approach that the Company is taking in deployment of Smart Meters is consistent with its policy for all other meter installations,” the letter stated.
The meters, which communicate wirelessly with each other, then broadcast signals sent by antennas and repeaters to CMP’s Augusta office, have already been installed on more than 70,000 homes in the greater Portland area. CMP plans to install meters on all 620,000 homes in its service area by 2012.
Health, security concerns
CMP has requested an extension until Nov. 18 on the second PUC complaint, filed by Elisa Boxer-Cook of Scarborough, who cited radiation-related health concerns and cyber security as the reasons for the complaint. CMP’s letter, dated Nov. 3, indicated Boxer-Cook had no opposition to the extension.
The letter also made a formal “general denial” of Boxer-Cook’s allegations, but did not provide a detailed argument.
The Maine Center for Disease Control this week provided CMP with some support. On Nov. 8 it released a summary of its findings on the meters, stating that “studies to date give no consistent or convincing evidence of a causal relation between (radio frequency) exposure in the range of frequencies and power used by smart meters and adverse health effects.”
The CDC compared smart meters to cell phones, calling the radiation from phones much greater than the meters, and cited a May 2010 study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology that found no link between cell phone use and two of the most common types of brain cancer.
Both PUC complaints asked CMP to offer customers the ability to opt out of the smart meter service, something the company has said it will not be able to offer because of the software and infrastructure required.
“If given the option I would opt-out of receiving a smart meter, especially since the meter I have isn’t broken and works just fine,” Hill said. “Just because something isn’t the latest doesn’t mean it’s not the smartest option.”
Dr. Amy Kustra Barksdale of the Portland Community Health Center and Scarborough’s local health official, Dr. Stephen Kirsch of Scarborough Family Physicians, both provided letters of support to Boxer-Cook’s complaint and asked that people be given the right to opt out of the service.
They said people who may have medically documented electromagnetic hypersensitivity or devices such as pacemakers that could be affected by the wireless radiation.
But the CDC’s review cited unnamed double-blind laboratory studies that found those diagnosed with electromagnetic hypersensitivity could not document exposure any more accurately than those without the diagnosis.
Gary Conover, owner of Computerworks in Scarborough, also filed a letter in support of Boxer-Cook’s complaint, citing concerns that the meters may become targets for hackers seeking private customer data. In his letter, Conover explained potential weaknesses in the mesh networks the smart meters utilize to communicate.
CMP has stated in the past that it already has encryption software in place to protect data, but has not responded to Conover’s specific concerns.
“In both cases, the commission will be deciding what other pieces of the process are needed,” PUC spokeswoman Evelyn deFrees said.
While there is not a formal time-line for evaluating the two complaints and CMP’s responses, deFrees said after the PUC gathers any additional information it requires, it will make a determination about whether it will start an adjudicatory process or dismiss the complaints.
Either party has the right to appeal the PUC’s decision or to lobby the state Legislature to change the law passed last year that allows and regulates smart meters.
On Oct. 20, the Scarborough Town Council asked CMP to delay installation of the smart meters for 90 days. The council is in the process of scheduling a public meeting for residents to voice their concerns and ask questions of PUC and CMP officials.
Councilors in Cape Elizabeth passed a similar resolution on Nov. 8 asking for a 90-day moratorium until a PUC forum could be scheduled. Scarborough Town Manager Tom Hall suggested Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough could hold a joint meeting for residents that would satisfy both towns’ resolutions.
During an open public comment session on Nov. 1, the South Portland City Council heard from residents asking the city to consider mirroring Scarborough’s 90-day moratorium. The Council has not acted on the request.
In Yarmouth, where smart meter installations have recently started, the town has posted a link on its website to the Federal Communication Commission’s report on radio frequency safety.
Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org
By Amy Anderson
CAPE ELIZABETH — The Town Council on Monday unanimously passed a resolution urging Central Maine Power Co. to delay installation of “smart” electric meters or related wireless equipment for at least 90 days.
The resolution, which would give residents time to get additional information about the meters, also encourages the Maine Public Utilities Commission to provide an opportunity for residents to speak for or against smart meters before they are installed in town.
While the resolution is non-binding and merely an expression of opinion or intention, councilors also added language urging CMP to allow customers to opt out of the installations.
Councilor Penny Jordan said residents should have a choice about what happens to their homes, and Councilor Frank Governali said the most important aspect of the resolution is the privacy issue.
“We certainly can voice our concern about how it relates to our own private property,” he said.
Resident Ange Foley spoke to the council in support of the resolution. She said health, safety and privacy concerns have not been made clear by CMP.
Resident Sara Merrill said she had her smart meter removed after calling CMP because she wanted more information about the technology.
“There are too many unknowns,” Merrill said. “We don’t have all the numbers. We need to be better informed.”
Scarborough resident Elisa Boxer-Cook, leader of a group of residents who challenged CMP’s installation of smart meters to the PUC, read a letter to the council from a Cape resident and pediatrician, Dr. Karen K. Emery of Maine Health Pediatrics in Falmouth, who couldn’t attend the meeting, but urged the council to pass the resolution.
Emery’s letter said it was wise to err on the side of caution with high-frequency wireless technology that adds new exposure without first conducting thorough research.
“I don’t believe we should install smart meters and wait for the science to conclusively show no risk, because by then it will be too late,” she said. “As part of Maine’s medical community, treating our most vulnerable population, I believe we need to halt instillation long enough to hold community-wide and statewide meetings discussing both sides of the science, not simply presenting CMP’s hired experts showing no cause for concern.”
At the very least, Emery said, “we should have a choice.”
CMP spokesman John Carroll attended the meeting and told councilors while he is not a health expert and could not speak to the concerns of the residents, the meters are a necessary upgrade from the existing technology.
He said customers could save money by monitoring their electricity usage, and CMP is becoming more green and saving time and money by eliminating the need for someone to drive around and read meters.
He said the council was voting on devices that are already in use in schools, public safety buildings, Town Hall and public buildings.
“Before you act,” Carroll said, “ask if you have done the due diligence yourselves like we have.”
Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or email@example.com