PUC to investigate smart meter alternatives

Central Maine Power technician Gary Sturgis installs one of the first &quotsmart" meters Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010 at an apartment building in Portland, Maine. The meter will give customers detailed information so they can track and manage their energy use.  (AP Photo/Joel Page)
Joel Page | AP
Central Maine Power technician Gary Sturgis installs one of the first "smart" meters Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010 at an apartment building in Portland, Maine. The meter will give customers detailed information so they can track and manage their energy use. (AP Photo/Joel Page)
Posted Jan. 04, 2011, at 10:50 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to open an investigation into whether it should require Central Maine Power to provide metering options to consumers instead of the smart meters being installed throughout its service area.

“I think we are all in agreement that an investigation should be opened to examine the issues,” said PUC Chairman Jack Cashman during the commission deliberations. “There are many issues here that need to be looked at.”

Two separate petitions were filed under the “10 person provision” of PUC law that allows 10 customers of a utility to ask the PUC to investigate any action of a utility. The PUC considered both petitions together but stressed that its probe will be focused on whether CMP should provide options, and will not address the health concerns raised by the petitions.

“There have been plenty of studies in this area, we don’t need to do more,” Cashman said.

He listed both national and international health groups that have studied health issues from radio transmissions. The smart meter technology uses low power radio transmissions to transmit data on electricity use to CMP computers.

The smart meters are part of the Automated Metering Infrastructure program, which was originally approved by the commission in February 2010. The program’s stated goal is to improve customer service, enhance storm restoration efforts, reduce utility operational costs, save ratepayer and utility costs, and ultimately provide customers with necessary tools to use electricity more efficiently.

PUC Commissioner David Litell said there are a lot of unanswered questions about options, and the appropriate way to have them answered is through a full PUC hearing of the issues. He said among the unresolved issues is whether the federal grant that pays for half of the cost of the meter project will be jeopardized if the project does not cover all customers.

Commissioner Vandean Vafiades was the author of the draft order that served as the basis for the PUC decision. She said many of the issues raised by the petitioners are beyond the scope of the PUC to decide.

“The proceeding would be focused on whether there are or are not advanced metering installation alternatives that are technologically feasible, that do not impact network performance and it not be cost prohibitive to all ratepayers,” she said.

In its response to the petitions, CMP argued there could be significant costs to implement alternatives. But spokesman John Carroll said the company is pleased at the scope of the investigation that the PUC has launched.

“We will have to wait and see what is in the final order to see what it is they want us to do,” he said. “We are prepared to do a technical analysis of the alternatives, and it appears that is what they are looking for from this process.”

Carroll said about 90,000 of the 600,000 meters have been installed across CMP’s service area. He said installations are on schedule and will not be slowed because of the investigation of alternative metering technologies.

“They have asked for an evaluation of alternatives and we will provide that,” he said. “This will not slow down the project.”

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