Opting out of smart meter program
Central Maine Power Company, a subsidiary of Iberdrola Spain, is in the process of replacing the analog electric meters of its 620,000 customers with a new technology of smart meters. Smart meters measure electric consumption in real time. They transmit a wireless radio signal, which is read remotely by the utility company.
CMP, following an aggressive installation schedule beginning in the Portland area, is moving up the coast. Installations in Knox, Lincoln, and Waldo counties, as well as Belfast service area communities, such as Bucksport in Hancock County, are scheduled for April and May. Castine can expect installers between April and June.
The Maine Public Utilities Commission has been holding hearings regarding smart meters and whether or not customers' concerns justify an option to opt out of having a smart meter installed. It is weighing the public's right to opt out versus CMP's demand that it needs total compliance. The PUC will make its decision in the near future.
About Smart Meters
A number of communities in the U.S. have banned smart meters. Thirty-two California communities have declared a moratorium, including Santa Cruz and Fairfax. Last October, the town council of Scarborough unanimously passed a resolution asking for a 90-day delay so residents could learn about the smart meter system and voice concerns, but they stopped short of calling for a moratorium.
Smart meters emit non-ionizing radiation, which is under investigation as a possible carcinogen. They operate on a high frequency of 2.4 gigahertz similar to antennas, rather than lower frequencies which are considered less harmful. While research continues, people are urged to limit their exposure.
There is controversy about whether the radiation is hazardous to human health (contributing to cancer among other ailments) with a number of scientists urging caution, while utility companies insist the meters are perfectly safe. In fact, the meters have been documented as contributing to or causing an array of problems.
Because the meter is essentially a computer connected to a vast network, security experts have raised concerns about hacking and viruses, citing the meters' vulnerability to hackers breaking into individual accounts or an entire grid, shutting power down, inflating bills and siphoning off power from victims. There have been reports of customers' bills skyrocketing after smart meters were installed, as well as smart meters causing the malfunction of home security and alarm systems.
Some individuals appear to have electrosensitivity; i.e. greater sensitivity to radio waves, and maintain their homes as wireless free zones without microwave ovens, wi-fi, cell phones and cordless phones. Symptoms reported by Maine residents after installation of smart meters include dizziness, heart palpitations, insomnia, muscle spasms, and headaches, which ceased when the smart meter was replaced.
Privacy and trespass are another area of concern for those who want to retain their right to decide what devices can be attached directly to their homes and to reject what they consider dangerous, untested, or invasive.
Last week an additional concern, that CMP is "bulling" customers who request to opt out of the smart meter program, was raised by the state's consumer advocate Eric Bryant, senior counsel in the Public Advocate's Office. He notified the PUC of complaints his office received from residents who were told they "must allow installation" of the meter, who found meters installed even though they had registered an opt out with CMP, and one woman who was threatened by CMP that they "would take action on your account" if she didn't immediately set up and appointment for the smart meter installation.
"We request that CMP be strongly admonished, "Bryant wrote in his letter to the PUC. CMP was to respond to the charges at a March 21 hearing before the Public Utilities Commission.
What you can do
Contact CMP to and opt out of the program. Do this immediately, since CMP is installing meters in the Midcoast right now. These are the steps to take. It is very important that you carry through with all four steps.
1) Phone or write a letter to CMP: Rachel S. Grenier, Director of Customer Service, CMP Iberdrola, 83 Edison Dr., Augusta, Maine 04336 (phone 623-3521) and state you are opting out of their smart meter program. You must be the primary account holder and provide your CMP account number and location (not mailing) address (this information appears on your monthly statement). When phoning, you may be referred to the department handling opt out requests. It is not CMP's business to know why you are opting out. Keep a written record of your phone call and their response; they are not allowed to bully or pressure you. Expect an acknowledgment letter from CMP within a few days; if you do not receive it, recontact them.
2) Write a letter to the PUC. The PUC will make the final decision about whether or not CMP must provide an opt-out option to customers. State your objections and concerns regarding the smart meter program. Include copies of your opt out CMP correspondence. Ask to be informed about upcoming public hearings when they take public testimony. Maine Public Utilities Commission, 18 State House Station, Augusta 04333-0018 (phone 207-287-3831/fax 207-287-1039).
3) Send a copy of your PUC letter to the Maine Public Advocate. On behalf of Maine consumers, this office is arguing to the PUC that CMP should be required to provide an opt out meter option. Include copies of you opt out CMP correspondence. Eric Bryant, Esq., Maine Public Advocate, 112 State House Station, Augusta, Maine 04333-0112 (phone 207-287-2445/fax 207-284-4317).
4) Place a sign on your meter that states you have opted out of the smart meter program. This is necessary because smart meters have been installed even after customers have opted out. Print it on colored paper and get it laminated at the Village Shop in Camden. Ours reads: "Notice do not install" a Smart Meter at this residence by order of CMP, with the date of your opt out request. Contact: Rachel S. Grenier, Director of Customer Service, CMP 207 623-3521.
5) If a smart meter was already installed and you have changed your mind, you can ask for it to be replaced. Follow the same process outlined above to have it removed. CMP is required to remove it if you ask.
6) If you encounter any problems in this process, report them to the Public Advocate Office.
Educate yourself, your family and friends.
Excellent websites are:
smartmetersafety.com (the Maine Smart Meter Safety Coalition)
state.me.us/meopa/smartgrid/index.shtm (Maine Public Advocate's objections)
emfsafetynetwork.org (about smart meters and community moratoriums)
smartmeterdangers.org (information about people who have been sickened by meters)
prove-it.co[Stet] (health tracing forms to assist people in tracking symptoms)
These devices are attached directly to our homes, often outside kitchens, bedrooms, and offices where we spend large amounts of time. Radio waves travel through walls. We owe it to ourselves, our families, and the community to think about this and make an informed decision.
Nancy Caudle-Johnson lives in Camden.