CMP threatens lawsuit over 'smart' meter moratorium in Bath

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BATH — Central Maine Power Co. is threatening to sue the city if it does not reverse a moratorium on installation of wireless “smart” electric meters.

The City Council discussed the matter in executive session Wednesday evening, but took no action after reopening the meeting to the public.

City Solicitor Roger Therriault earlier said the discussion was expected to be about “the letter that we received that threatens litigation, and what we’re going to do about it, if anything.”

Attorney Jared des Rosiers of Pierce Atwood told Therriault in a June 8 letter that CMP has retained his firm’s services. He said CMP believes the ordinance is inconsistent with orders by the Maine Public Utilities Commission and that it conflicts with state and federal law.

“CMP requests that the (City) Council rescind the ordinance immediately,” des Rosiers said. “If not, CMP is prepared to take necessary legal measures in federal and/or state court to challenge the legality of the Ordinance. CMP hopes that such a legal challenge is unnecessary, however, in light of recent (Maine Public Utilities Commission) orders covering the very issues of concern cited in the ordinance.”

CMP’s position is also that the moratorium is not in the interest of CMP customers who, because of the ordinance, “will be required to pay the opt-out fees unless they affirmatively ask to have a smart meter,” des Rosiers said.

CMP spokesman John Carroll said the opt-out fees apply if customers choose one of two alternate meters.

One is a digital electronic meter that is similar to a smart meter, but with a disabled communication system; it would cost $20 up front and $10.50 a month, Carroll said.

The other alternative is an electromechanical meter, the previously standard analog device, which would cost $40 up front and $20 a month, Carroll said.

Smart meters are now the default option, Carroll said.

CMP has had a 30-day window from the date of the City Council’s approval of the moratorium ordinance in which to file a legal challenge.

The City Council voted 5-3 June 1 for a 180-day moratorium on the installation of smart meters by CMP without prior approval of residents. Residents who want the devices would still be able to have them installed.

The moratorium came about after several CMP customers challenged the company’s meter conversions in complaints filed with the PUC. The customers claimed the devices are unsafe, which CMP denies, and that customers should be allowed to opt out of the program.

The PUC last month declined to intervene, except to order CMP to give customers the option of declining the new meters for a fee.

Des Rosiers’ letter followed a warning delivered at the June 1 meeting by Larry Benoit, a consultant representing CMP, that the company could pursue legal action if the city enacted the moratorium.

He noted that “given the recent decisions by the PUC on a number of cases that have been pending, we believe that the opt-out program will address the vast majority of the concerns that were raised by the proposal for this (moratorium) ordinance.”

Benoit said the PUC spent about seven months dealing with issues that have been raised, and that the issues of safety, cybersecurity and the appropriate nature of wireless technology had been dismissed.

He also said the opt-out provision would allow customers already with smart meters to request that they be replaced with either an old analog meter or a smart meter without the ability to transmit disabled.

Therriault declined Tuesday to discuss the matter, saying that he had to talk first with the City Council.

“At this point, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a potential litigation matter, and (the) council needs to get their arms around this and decide what direction they want to go in.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Updated on Thursday, June 23, 2011.

Sidebar Elements

Bath council OKs rainy-day fund growth

BATH — Prior to its executive session Wednesday, the City Council passed a $1.5 million supplemental appropriation.

The city is setting aside additional money for unanticipated expenditures, and surplus funds in the General Fund Undesignated Fund Balance Account are there for that purpose.

Councilor Kyle Rogers proposed amendments that would reduce the appropriation to first $435,000 and then $600,000, but both attempts failed.

The appropriation was approved 5-2, with Rogers and Councilor Steve Brackett opposed.

The council Wednesday also unanimously approved an ordinance that authorizes borrowing up to $214,500 for work on the Small School roof and for several acquisitions, including a fire station generator, two police vehicles, a cemetery truck and a new trolley.

— Alex Lear

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.