Maine supreme court agrees with PUC, says smart meters are safe

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PORTLAND — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday affirmed a state agency’s finding that advanced metering infrastructure, commonly known as “smart meters,” are not harmful to human health and safety.

The decision ends a public dispute of more than five years over alleged health risks associated with the meters.

Central Maine Power Co., the utility that serves most of the western half of the state, began installing smart meters in 2009 with the aid of $96 million in federal stimulus money.

The new meters differ from traditional electrical meters in that they transmit information wirelessly back to the company.

But some customers complained to the Public Utilities Commission about the potential health effects associated with the radio frequency signals emitted by the meters. Pointing to studies supported by the World Health Organization, they argued RF radiation causes problems ranging from nausea, to chronic pain, to cancer.

In response, the PUC in 2011 required the utility to allow customers to opt out of the new metering system. CMP complied, but began charging an opt-out fee for the service.

The commission did not make any finding regarding the safety of smart meters.

Lawsuit complainants, led by Bowdoinham resident Ed Friedman of the Maine Coalition to Stop Smart Meters, appealed the dismissal to the Supreme Judicial Court in 2012. The court sided with Friedman and voided that dismissal, effectively ordering the PUC to make a determination on the threat to health and safety posed by smart meters.

The PUC then spent 2 1/2 years investigating the safety of smart meters. In the end, the panel ruled that “the use of smart meters, as implemented by CMP, does not present a credible threat of harm to the health and safety of CMP’s customers, and based on the record of this proceeding is, therefore, safe.”

Friedman and the coalition appealed that ruling to the high court and, in oral arguments last November, argued that the PUC improperly shifted the burden of proof to the complainants. They also argued that the decision was not supported by substantial evidence in the record, and that the two commissioners serving on the panel varied greatly in their individual opinions.

But this week the court ruled in favor of the PUC on all counts.

In a ruling written by Justice Andrew M. Mead, the justices agreed that Friedman’s argument – that any credible evidence of health risks precluded a decision of safety – would set “an impractically high threshold for ensuring safety, and as a result would render nearly all utilities unsafe.”

Furthermore, “the record is replete with evidence supporting the Commission’s 82-page order finding that smart meters do not pose a credible threat to the health and safety of CMP’s customers,” the justices said.

The opinion also noted that over the course of the investigation, the PUC admitted over 100 peer-reviewed studies into the record, and also conducted multiple technical proceedings involving expert witnesses and cross-examination.

In the end, both commissioners “unequivocally concurred in their determination,” the court said.

“We’re very pleased that the Maine Supreme Judicial Court has affirmed the commission’s decision that smart meters are safe,” CMP spokeswoman Gail Rice said Wednesday.

Rice said CMP has 7,000 customers who have opted out of the smart meter program, down from a peak of 8,600 in 2012.

“I think people are realizing these meters are not a threat to health or safety,” she said.

In an email Tuesday evening, Friedman said “today’s Supreme Court decision in our smart meter case is not unexpected, but of course a great disappointment to any who care about this issue, the health and safety of all citizens, and to any who still have some lingering faith in the law.”

“It’s a long and convoluted road” from the PUC’s mission to “ensure safe, reasonable and adequate service,” and the ruling they made in their investigation, he said.

“Explain this to the many thousands injured by smart meters and to all those who refuse to pay what amounts to extortion fees to avoid the actual or credible threat of harm from RF exposure,” Friedman added.

Drawing a parallel between the public health dispute over the safety of tobacco and the smart meter debate, he said the court “instead chose to believe the ‘Marlboro Man,’ that smoking is good for us.”

Friedman noted that earlier in the month, a presentation on electrohypersensitive individuals – those who claim to be critically impaired by RF radiation – was given at a world conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

The doctor who presented the material, Dr. Yael Stein of Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, referred to those affected as “environmental refugees.”

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.


Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.

  • Jeanine

    Where did they says smart meters were “safe”? I didn’t read that, and I did read the entire judgment. They said, poses no “credible threat to the health and safety.” That is NOT calling smart meters safe.

  • MaineMod

    Speaking of “a long and convoluted road,” comparing a smart meter, which sends a tiny signal a few seconds per day, to the “Marlboro Man” who smoked three packs a day is a bit of a stretch.

    And the fees are “extortion?” Um no, they simply cover the cost of the additional service YOU are getting. If YOU refuse to have a smart meter than indeed YOU should be paying for the union worker to drive to your house, read the meter, record the reading, and send it back to the utility. And YOU should pay for the fuel and upkeep of the vehicle the union worker drives.

    Now pull some tin foil off the roll and fashion yourself a hat which the rest of us go about our daily lives.

  • Chris Turner, santa-cruz-county-health-dept-health-effects-of-smart-meters/,

    Conflict of Interest at the World Health Organisation – Leading Expert Anders Ahlbom Linked to the Telecom Industry, 23.05.2011

    “The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has removed
    Anders Ahlbom of the Karolinska Institute from its panel of experts
    which is set to evaluate the cancer risks posed by mobile phones. The
    committee will meet in Lyon, France, for a week beginning this coming
    Tuesday, May 24. In an e-mail sent out earlier today, Ahlbom wrote,
    “IARC has excluded me from the RF Working Group because of ‘possible
    perception of conflict of interest’.”

    IARC moved quickly after learning that Ahlbom is a director of his
    brother’s consulting firm, Gunnar Ahlbom AB. The company, which is based
    in Brussels, was established to help clients on telecom issues, with an
    emphasis on environmental and energy regulations…”

  • Chris Turner

    Interesting link re California PUC,

    Published on Feb 13, 2015, “Evidence
    has now been made public of illegal actions and collusion between
    former California Public Utilities Commission president Michael Peevey
    and utility PG&E, as criminal investigations continue.”

  • Chris Turner, (1/19/16)

    “… With a new 12-page report, Stan Mitchell, a retired financial analyst living in San Antonio, accuses CPS Energy of engaging in “conscious obfuscation.”

    The city-owned utility initially said installation costs of $290
    million would be recovered over 12 years. But the calculations did not
    factor in financing costs, which will, by Mitchell’s estimate, extend
    the payoff period to 20 years.

    Further, CPS assigned a 15-year lifespan to the meters, and did not include replacement costs in its accounting…”


    Good to see an example of science trumping ignorance. But, will the scaremongers now give up on their goofy propaganda campaign against smart meters? Don’t count on it! BTW – “no credible threat to the health and safety” is synonymous with “SAFE.”