Legislation Aims To Slow Utility’s Smart Meter Initiative

Legislation Aims To Slow Utility’s Smart Meter Initiative

OCEAN CITY – Smart meters have been a hot topic of late with area residents planning to meet with Delmarva Power representatives next month amid legislation introduced in both the House and the Senate to address them.

At the conclusion of Tuesday afternoon’s Mayor and City Council work session, Ocean City AARP President Chris Norris announced a meeting will be held on Wednesday, March 12, starting promptly at 11 a.m. at the Ocean City Senior Center on 41st Street regarding smart meters. Representatives of Delmarva Power will be present to provide an overview of the smart meter project and address customers’ questions and concerns.

Last spring, Delmarva Power began installing smart meters, or digital meters, at many residential and business accounts in Maryland as part of a proactive initiative to streamline the billing process and provide consumers and the utility with a better understanding of energy usage. Delmarva Power is authorized by the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) to install smart meters for all of its Maryland customers.

According to Delmarva Power, smart meters will provide detailed energy information that will help the customer understand electric and gas usage and help all meet energy reduction goals in Delaware and Maryland.

Smart meters are equipped with technology that allows two-way communications between a home or business and Delmarva Power. The meter reads daily energy use, and in the future the customer will have access to the data to monitor and help take control of energy use.

Delmarva Power’s contractor for performing the meter installation is Scope Services, Inc. Employees will be driving white vehicles with Scope Services and Delmarva Power signs on them and will be wearing uniforms and carrying photo identification badges.

Installers will knock on the door to notify the customer of their arrival and prepare for the service interruption, if necessary. If no one answers, the installer will proceed to make the installation. In cases of multi-dwelling units, installers will notify the management office and proceed with meter exchanges.

If no one is at home and a meter is indoors or otherwise inaccessible, the installer will try again later. After several failed attempts, the installer will leave a door hanger asking the customer to call and schedule an appointment.

City officials have been confronted with ongoing concerns over the new smart meters. Earlier this month former Ocean City Councilman Vince Gisriel, Jr. raised concerns over the amount of radio frequency radiation the new devices emit and the potential health problems they can cause, and has been championing the elimination of smart meters, or at the very least an opt-out opportunity for those concerned with the potential health risks, privacy and security concerns and even cost increases associated with them.

Gisriel furthered there are privacy and security concerns related to the information collected and shared by the meters. He said there has been no evidence presented that the smart meters are effective in lowering utility bills for consumers.

After listening to Gisriel’s concerns, the Mayor and City Council agreed to invite Delmarva Power officials to a future meeting to explain the smart meter installation process and address any of the potential health issues, safety concerns, privacy concerns and other potential impacts on local residents.

Delmarva Power Regional Vice President John Allen responded to Gisriel’s concerns in a Letter to the Editor to this paper.

“Educating our customers concerning energy usage and the tools we use to bring a reliable energy source to their homes is important to us at Delmarva Power.  Although we have done a lot to educate customers concerning smart meters, we still have to continue that process,” Allen said,

According to Allen, there is no widespread radiation being emitted throughout neighborhoods and communities from the use of smart meters. In fact, smart meters use low-powered radio signals to communicate with Delmarva Power. These radio signals are similar to or less than those used by other everyday appliances, such as cellular and cordless phones, garage door openers, baby monitors, televisions, Bluetooth® devices, wireless computer networks and home security systems.

Allen furthered Delmarva Power is committed to keeping its customers’ data private and has state-of-the-art technology and operational procedures to do so.  Allen said smart meters have helped eliminate the inaccuracies in billing and in fact the use of smart meters has helped customers use energy more efficiently.

On Tuesday Delegate Norman Conway, who represents Wicomico and Worcester counties, introduced three House Bills regarding Smart Meters.

HB 1480, Electricity-Smart Meter Installation Charges-Residential Rental Property, is for the purpose of prohibiting an electric company from charging a certain tenant for the installation of a smart meter on certain residential rental property; defining a certain term; and generally relating to electricity service and smart meters.

HB 1481, Electricity-Smart Meter Installation- Consent Requirement, is for the purpose of prohibiting an electric company from installing a smart meter on the exterior of a certain building without the written consent of a certain person; defining a certain term; and generally relating to electricity service and smart meters.

HB 1482, Electricity-Customer Billing- Smart Meter Installation and Maintenance Costs,  is for the purpose of requiring an electric company to give certain written notice to certain customers before installing smart meters on a customer’s premises under certain circumstances; specifying the contents of a certain notice; prohibiting an electric company from billing a customer for certain charges except under certain circumstances; prohibiting an electric company from charging a customer more for the installation and maintenance of a smart meter than for the installation and maintenance of an analog meter; defining a certain term; and generally relating to electricity service and smart meters. The Maryland Smart Meter Awareness (MSMA) group reported this week the Maryland Senate Finance Committee and House Economic Matters Committee will be holding hearings regarding four Senate bills that address smart meter problems on March 4 and March 6.

Since the PSC May 2012 order allowing meter installation deferrals, approximately 30,000 Maryland ratepayers have requested a deferral.  In addition, another 175,000 with indoor analog meters have refused the utilities access to those meters.

Senate Bill 280, sponsored by Senator Verna Jones-Rodwell, seeks to protect the public from utilities’ disclosure of smart meter data to third parties, and SB 880, sponsored by Senator Delores Kelley, seeks to provide a permanent opt out to any Maryland resident, school or business that does not want a smart meter.  Both SB will be heard on March 4.

HB 331, like SB 280, seeks to protect the public from utilities’ disclosure of smart meter data to third parties. HB 332, like SB 880, seeks to provide a permanent opt out option for Maryland homeowners, schools and businesses. Both will be heard on Thursday, March 6.

“Analysis of existing deployments reveals more benefit to the utilities than to the customer,” MSMA President Jonathan Libber said. “These wireless smart meters are jeopardizing privacy, health and safety of every man, woman and child living in the Pepco, Delmarva Power and Light, BGE and SMECO service areas.”