PORTLAND, Maine — After a years-long inquiry, state regulators have decided the radio-transmitting electricity meters installed at the homes of about 615,000 Central Maine Power Co. customers do not pose a threat to human health.
The two members of the three-person Maine Public Utilities Commission who discussed the issue Tuesday agreed on that point but disagreed on whether customers who present a doctor’s note indicating they are being treated for exposure to radio frequencies could have the smart meters shut off at no cost. Those meters allow the power company to take meter readings remotely.
Nearly 7,670 customers have requested not to have the smart meters installed or to have them shut off with an up-front cost of $40 and a monthly cost of $12, according to CMP.
“The meters for me are safe or not safe,” PUC Commissioner Mark Vannoy said during deliberations Tuesday. “Safety is not a function of ratemaking treatment of an opt-out.”
Commissioner David Littell argued customers did not have a choice of continuing their previous service, facing either installation of smart meters or new fees. And while population-level studies show no broad health threat, he said complaints from more than 8,000 CMP customers and testimony by medical professionals led him to conclude those with medical verification should be allowed to opt out.
Harry Lanphear, spokesman for the PUC, said the opt-out matter will be negotiated as the commission produces its written order. Regulators were asked to make a determination about smart-meter safety after a ruling by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in July.
The overriding conclusion that smart meters are safe ends an investigation that began in 2012 in response to a complaint from Bowdoinham resident Ed Friedman.
Friedman said after the decision Tuesday he was disappointed but not surprised by the stance of the two commissioners hearing the case. He said he was not satisfied by the medical opt-out proposal as a remedy to the health concerns, because a person opting out in a densely populated area may have many neighbors who keep the smart meters and because he said the health impacts aren’t necessarily limited to those who show symptoms.
“I think that’s ridiculous,” he said of the medical opt-out. “Whether or not you’re acutely sensitive enough to have symptoms neglects that we’re exposed. … There are different levels of sensitivity, and we’re all susceptible.”
Friedman said he is waiting for the commission’s order before considering whether to contest the substance of that finding before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
Gail Rice, spokeswoman for CMP, said the company was pleased with the decision.
“We knew from before we installed the first meter,” Rice said. “We had studied them and knew they would do what they needed to do and would pose no threat to health or safety.”
Rice said the meters save the company money, reduce emissions from having meter-readers on the road checking individual meters — “with the exception of opt-outs,” she said — and the company is able to more quickly respond to outages or service problems. Customers opting out of the smart-meter program make up about 1.2 percent of the total customer base, and Rice said that number has declined from a peak of more than 8,000 in May 2012.
The smart meters also enable customers to review their energy use through an online service. She said 30,000 customers have signed up.