The Maine Public Utilities Commission voted this week that customers of Central Maine Power be allowed options in how their personal electricity use is assessed. The decision followed public concerns raised over the installation of smart meters.

Most electric customers have little familiarity with smart meters, but their introduction in Maine created a small swell of resistance, with some ratepayers leery of high-frequency emissions, and possible health effects.

The PUC listened to complaints during the winter, and investigated whether their were alternatives to the smart meters, which were being installed by CMP to improve customer service, enhance storm restoration efforts, and reduce operational, utility and ratepayer costs. The new meters are to spell the end of meter-readers (148 jobs to be fazed out) because power usage data is sent daily to CMP computers. In total, CMP was hoping to install 620,000 meters with the roll-out of smart meters. So far 189,000 smart meters have been installed. Crews are scheduled to work in the Rockland area from May 30 to Aug. 6.

CMP will host a smart meter briefing at the Appleton Town Hall on Thursday, May 19 at 7 p.m. The public is invited to attend. A CMP representative will be available to answer questions. CMP has a frequently-asked-questions section on its website about smart meters at cmpco.com/smartmeter.

Half the funding for the smart meter implementation was provided by a U.S. Department of Energy grant, money with roots in the pockets of taxpayers.

The May 17 PUC vote indicates that its members listened to the concerns of Maine citizens skeptical of the new meters. Given that the PUC investigation determined there are viable alternatives to the smart meter program it makes sense to reach a compromise with those who worried about adding radio waves to their environment.

The commission concluded that offering opt-out options is in the public interest. The PUC decision said customers should have four choices: 1) the default smart meter, which will become the standard meter in CMP territory; 2) the ability to select a smart meter with the transmitter off; 3) the ability to keep the customer’s existing analog meter; or 4) the ability to move the new smart meters elsewhere on their property at the customer’s expense.

The customer who chooses an opt-out option will pay the associated costs of that option: a) smart meter with transmitter off will carry an initial charge of $20 and a monthly charge of $10.50; b) the existing analog meter option will carry the initial charge of $40 and a monthly charge of $12. In order to address concerns of low-income customers, those who are eligible for Low Income Home Energy Assistance will be charged only 50 percent of the cost of their chosen opt-out option. CMP is required to develop and implement a smart meter opt-out communication plan to inform customers about the program during the company’s deployment of its smart meter program.

The decision reflects a respect for achievable compromise, and recognition that citizens’ concerns are worthy of investigating. That is sound public policy.