Scarborough 'smart' meter opponents to hold workshops around Maine

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SCARBOROUGH — A state ruling allowing Central Maine Power Co. to continue with installation of “smart” electric meters hasn’t meant a slowdown for local opponents of the wireless technology.

Elisa Boxer-Cook, one of the residents who fought Maine’s largest power company for the option to opt-out of the new meter program, is gearing up for an educational tour of southern Maine towns and cities.

Boxer-Cook says she wants to help people make an informed decision about their meter options.

The wireless meters communicate billing information directly to CMP, saving the company the labor cost of meter readers and providing more immediate information about electricity usage.

Following a ruling from the Maine Public Utilities Commission in May, CMP must send notifications customers, informing them of their options when it comes to the new wireless meters. Customers will have 30 days to notify the utility of their intent to opt out, after which they’ll have to pay a fee to go ‘smart’-free.

Boxer-Cook and other members of the Smart Meter Safety Coalition will begin their tour in Scarborough at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 29, at the Municipal Building. They also have plans to speak in Brunswick and Cape Elizabeth, and are in talks to schedule a session in Bowdoinham.

She and the other PUC complainants claimed the wireless technology has negative health effects on some people, creates fire risks for homes with older wiring and can cause interference with wireless networks.

The PUC declined to intervene on the health, safety and security risk claims. It instead centered on the right of customers to decide what kind of technology could be placed at their homes and businesses.

Boxer-Cook said the goal of the workshops isn’t necessarily to convince people to opt out.

“If someone walks away from the meeting, fully aware of the problems people have had with ‘smart’ meters all across the country, and still think it’s worth the risk, that’s great,” Boxer-Cook said. “But no one should get one just because CMP says they have to.”

Customers have two opt-out options: They can keep the regular meter they already have, paying a one-time $40 fee and an additional $12 per month, or they can switch to a “smart” meter with the wireless transmitter turned off, paying a one-time $20 fee and an additional $10.50 per month.

Boxer-Cook and the coalition have a small window of time to hold their workshops.

CMP spokesman John Carroll said the company has already started sending notifications to roughly 5,000 customers who have expressed an interest in opting out. Next week, he said, the company would start sending notices to other customers.

Carroll said it is hard to predict how many customers would opt out.

“This is the first time an opt-out has been done anywhere in the country,” he said. “There’s no precedent. In the modeling with the PUC, we based the pricing model on 9,000 people, or about 1.5 percent of our customers. But no one knows how many people will care enough to pay $144 per year to opt out.”

Boxer-Cook said the price is worth the peace of mind.

“I look at it as insurance,” she said. “Ten dollars and 50 cents per month is a small price to pay to stay private, healthy, and secure.”

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or mmoretto@theforecaster.net. Follo Mario on Twitter: @riocarmine.

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