PUC staff presents plan for opting out of CMP 'smart' meter program

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Proposal still faces scrutiny from commissioners

HALLOWELL — Customers may be able to opt out of Central Maine Power Co.’s wireless “smart” meter program – for a fee – if a Maine Public Utilities Commission staff proposal is adopted by commissioners.

PUC staff presented an analysis April 21 that outlined two possible opt-out procedures. The first would allow customers to keep their old meters for an initial charge of $40, and a monthly charge of $12.

The second option would include installation of the smart meter, but its ability to transmit wirelessly would be disabled. This option would still allow CMP to turn off the meters remotely and would cost the customer $20 initially and $10.50 per month.

Both options would still require meter readers to take on-site reading every other month.

The staff report comes after seven groups filed complaints with the PUC, many of which asked for an opt-out option based on concerns about the safety and cybersecurity of the meters. The PUC ruled several weeks ago that it would not investigate those issues, and two weeks ago a bill was tabled in the Legislature’s Energy and Utilities Committee that would require CMP to offer opt-outs.

In their report, the PUC staff suggested CMP be required to notify customers of the opt-out option. Customers would have 30 days to respond; after that, opting out would cost an additional $25.

“We’re very pleased with this,” lead PUC complainant Elisa Boxer-Cook of Scarborough said Monday. “(The PUC staff) have spent months analyzing the information and have determined people should be able to keep their analog meters.”

Boxer-Cook said she received many calls over the weekend from people angry that they would have to pay to opt out, but that she was still happy with the compromise.

“I mean, in an ideal world, people shouldn’t have to pay to not get sick, or not have wireless interference or risk fires,” she said. “But I believe it’s a reasonable compromise to pay a reasonable cost (to keep the analog meters).”

The PUC report estimates approximately 9,000 of the more than 600,000 customers set to receive smart meters would choose to opt out, or about 1.5 percent. About 5,000 customers have already asked to opt out of the program.

According to the report, customers who qualify for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program who wish to opt out could have a portion of the costs of the initial fee and continuing charge for opting out covered by the LIHEAP program.

CMP would be required to track and report participation in the smart meter program to the PUC.

The commissioners will hear arguments April 28 from CMP and the customers who have filed complaints. A conference for the parties to discuss the staff analysis has been scheduled for May 2.

CMP officials declined to comment Monday on the PUC report until the company formally issues its response.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.

Updated Monday, April 25, 2011.