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Published on March 4th, 2014 | by Jeremy Bauer-Wolf

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Lower fees and protections for opting out of smart meters proposed

By Jeremy Bauer-Wolf

jeremy@marylandreporter.com

Opt-out smart meter

From MarylandSmartMeterAwareness.org

Some Marylanders are apprehensive that a digital, smart meter system measuring their electricity use violates their privacy and will heap on costs to electric bills. They are supporting legislation that would allow an inexpensive opt-out option.

Sen. Delores Kelley, a Baltimore County Democrat, told the Senate Finance committee Tuesday that SB 880 offers a solution both satisfying to constituents and fair to the electric companies.

Smart meters transmit data to the utilities, providing more accurate readings, the companies say. They remove the need for meter readers, and companies are gradually replacing the old, analog units, unless a resident explicitly opts out.

In Maryland, the Public Service Commission recently dictated that beginning July 1, customers who elect not to have a Smart Meter would pay a one-time fee of $75, with the utility companies charging additional monthly fees of between $11-$17.

Fees would be based on actual costs

Kelley’s bill would mitigate those fees considerably, she said. Consumers would be only be forced to pay whatever costs are associated with either an analog or smart meter as a form of cost recovery for the utilities.

Sen. Delores Kelley

Sen. Delores Kelley

That figure has not yet been calculated, but would be lower than the arbitrary one the PSC has mandated, Kelley said.

She urged the committee to add an amendment to the bill that would ask the PSC to perform an analysis and develop cost projections for each type of meter.

“Such high fees mean that low- and moderate-income consumers will not be able to exercise their choice to opt out of a smart meter if they have … concerns,” Kelley said.

Customers opt out for numerous reasons, according to Jonathan Libber, a former environmental attorney and president of Maryland Smart Meter Awareness, an organization which aims to spotlight the problems of smart meters.

Oft-cited concerns are effects on health and collection of an unnecessary amount of data on energy use,

Health effects not tested

DoNotInstallSmartMeterSign_Spanish-Addition1Dr. Anita Moore, who testified as a representative of Maryland Smart Meter Awareness, likened the low-level radiation the smart meters emit to emissions from microwaves, which also pose health risks, she said.

“Utilities can’t guarantee the safety of smart meters,” Moore said. “They’ve avoided doing any kind of health study on it, suggesting maybe they’re afraid of seeing the results.”

The FCC has published a FAQ on its website that suggest the levels of radiofrequency radiation encountered by the general public are generally too infrequent and too low to be harmful.

Moore said these statements are invalid because the FCC is not a health organization.

Ruth Eisenberg, treasurer of Maryland Smart Meter Awareness, raised the privacy concerns. She noted that though Maryland’s smart meters are not sophisticated as other states’, she said we’re only “a software upgrade away” from utilities being able to collect hordes of data on when the home is occupied, whether the occupants are asleep or awake, and the types of appliances and medical equipment they are using.

Non disclosure

Kelley’s bill would prevent utilities from selling or disclosing data to any third party without a customer’s written consent, except in the case of preparing that customer’s bill or “to support consumer choice.”

The PSC would hear complaints of privacy violation and could deem companies pay up to $1,000 in damages to the affected customer.

The bill also requires utilities to provide written notice to customers about where smart meters would be deployed. Customers would have  60 days to opt out of the smart meter system.

An almost identical piece of legislation, SB 280, is being sponsored by Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell D-Baltimore City, and was heard in conjunction with Kelley’s at Tuesday’s hearing.

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  • InGodWeTrust

    FINALLY – we may get a level-playing field for Maryland consumers. Maryland legislators set up the Public Service Commission over 100 years ago, to protect Maryland consumers from greed and over-reach by the Utilities. However – it is obvious that once all those legislators passed away – the Utilities and the PSC have been “partying together ever since” on OUR DIME ! While the fiscal abuse is bad enough, the depraved indifference to the safety of our data (aside from our health) is worse yet. Namely, people do not yet understand the Utilities are frighteningly ill-equipped to have the silicon-valley-type expertise that it will take to SAFELY and ADEQUATELY protect and encrypt our private info and usage data in the management of the TWO-WAY communications inherent with the smart meters (as WELL as extending the same delicate safeguarding to the back & forth transactions needed for people who use alternative electricity suppliers (vs. standard-offer-service). I have a 30 year IT background. I know the kind of skill this takes, and I shudder at the thought of BGE performing this job for me. The utilities are asking the public to TRUST the equivalent of expecting an axe-thrower to perform your heart surgery – and not kill you in the process. People need to melt the phones and emails of their state senators and delegates on this. The Utilities and the PSC have thrown Marylander’s DATA SAFETY under the bus on this one – along with their health etc. And the coup de gras is, they want us to pay LIFETIME FEES for which they have provided NO FACTUAL cost/savings data, for the ‘privilege’ of simply saying “NO”. Don’t accept it folks…….get on the phone!

  • Chris Turner

    “According to this position
    letter from US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “The FCC’s
    current (radio frequency/microwave) exposure guidelines … are thermally
    based, and do not apply to chronic, nonthermal exposure situations. They
    are believed to protect against injury that may be caused by acute exposures
    that result in tissue heating or electric shock and burn.” “The
    FCC’s exposure guideline is considered protective of effects arising from a
    thermal mechanism but not from all possible mechanisms. Therefore, the
    generalization by many that the guidelines protect human beings from harm by
    any or all mechanisms is not justified”. “Federal health and safety
    agencies have not yet developed policies concerning possible risk from
    long-term, nonthermal exposures”.”

    http://www.freewebs.com/maggiezhou/wirelessharm.htm

    Chris Turner, Esq.
    DC Smart Meter Choice
    dcsmartmeterchoice.com

  • WhereIsTony

    The smart meters will save money. People opting out will raise the overall cost for delivering electricity in maryland. They should pay for their choice to do so.

    Or else everybody else is paying the price for their paranoia

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