Pair of complaints seek PUC probe of smart meters

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SCARBOROUGH — Customers of Central Maine Power Co. have filed two complaints asking the Maine Public Utilities Commission to reconsider its approval of “smart” electric meters on homes served by CMP.

The smart meters are the target of criticism from citizen groups and municipalities, which have called for more testing to determine the meters are safe and secure.

The Scarborough Town Council unanimously passed a resolution last week asking CMP to wait 90 days before installing the meters in town.

“CMP stopped short of saying they would not install for 90 days, but gave us assurance they’re willing to meet for a public forum,” Scarborough Town Manager Tom Hall said. “They agreed not to install the meters until after the forum.”

Hall said the forum has not yet been scheduled, but that he expected it to occur in mid-November.

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 15,000 homes in the greater Portland area. CMP plans to install meters on all 620,000 homes in its service area by 2012.

In addition to eliminating the company’s costs associated with traditional meter readers, CMP spokesman John Carroll said the smart meters would help usher in a new consumer-driven process for electricity purchasing and use.

“This new technology would allow a person to buy electricity on a variable rate,” Carroll said, adding that this process would give consumers the option of only using electricity when it comes from green sources such as wind or solar, which traditionally charge lower rates.

This variable rate system is currently being evaluated by the PUC and is not yet available.

The first PUC complaint was filed Oct. 26 in Augusta by Scarborough resident Elisa Boxer-Cook on behalf of 12 people, including state Rep. Sean Flaherty, D-Scarborough, who sits on the Legislature’s Utilities and Energy Committee.

“By signing on, I hope I’m helping to send the message that we need more information before widespread installation of these units. Consumers deserve to know more, we deserve to feel safe,” Flaherty said.

The complaint asked for an immediate moratorium on the installation of the meters until their emissions can be investigated for possible health affects. It also asked that an opt-out provision be available to customers who do not want smart meters on their homes.

“We’ve certainly provided information to (state health organizations) that they’re safe,” Carroll said.

Dr. Dora Anne Mills of the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that the smart meters are not a health threat, based on her study of CMP- and opponent-provided information.

The second PUC complaint, signed by 11 Scarborough residents and also filed Oct. 26, claims the meters caused fires when they were installed in Texas.

It also cites signer Averyl Hill’s experience when she reportedly contacted CMP and the company’s contractor for the meters, VSI Meters, and was told by both organizations that “the meters will be inspected by the meter installers as they are switched out and that in some cases, if the wiring is determined to be unfit to handle the new meters, that it will be up to the home owner to pay and arrange to have their wiring updated.”

“This is the case today,” said Carroll. “If we remove a meter and see a dangerous situation, we won’t replace the meter.”

Carroll said in these instances, the power is not restored until a homeowner fixes the unsafe wiring. He added that if there is unsafe wiring within the meter boxes, CMP would pay to have it fixed.

The PUC gives a utility 10 days to respond to a complaint. After that, the PUC will evaluate whether the utility has taken adequate steps to remove the cause of the complaint or that the complaint is without merit and dismiss it. If the complaint is not dismissed, the PUC will begin a formal investigation and schedule a public hearing.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or