OPA Seeking More Information On Smart Meters

BERLIN – Ocean Pines residents want more information on smart meters before they see the electronic devices installed outside their homes.

Several homeowners shared their worries regarding smart meters with the Ocean Pines Association’s elected officials during a board meeting last week. Concerns ranged from the health risks of the meters to the amount of control they had to give Choptank Electric, the community’s electric provider.

“I’m not saying I’m against technology,” resident Pamela Dameron said. “I just want more information. We don’t want this to be the new asbestos.”

Dameron said Pines residents hadn’t been provided enough information on smart meters, which Choptank plans to install in the community this summer. She said the meters would be emitting radio waves like cell phones did and could create health problems.

“The health risks of smart meters increase for children and the elderly,” she said, adding that she has had cancer and wanted to make sure she didn’t put her own health in jeopardy.

Resident Harry Gowl said he wanted to know if the new meters would allow Choptank to control electric use remotely.

“Could the power company use these meters to throttle back high users during peak hours?” he said.

When contacted after the board meeting, Mike Wheatley, CEO of Choptank, said the company hosted an open house in Ocean Pines on June 18 to answer any questions residents might have about the impending installation of smart meters. Nevertheless, he said officials would be happy to come back if residents still had questions.

“It’s just part of the process,” he said. “For the most part, our open houses have been successful in providing information. In general, concerns have gone away.”

Choptank Electric is the latest of the local electric providers to begin using smart meters. Delmarva Power is using the meters throughout the Eastern Shore while Berlin Electric has installed 100 of the devices in the downtown area. Wheatley says Choptank started putting the new meters in in St. Michaels about two weeks ago. The company expects to begin installing them in Ocean Pines in late July.

“We’ve been pretty pleased with the response,” Wheatley said. “A lot of people recognize that it’s 2015 and we should be moving forward.”

Utility companies have been transitioning to smart meters — digital, wireless devices to monitor electricity use — in recent years for a variety of reasons. Unlike the old analog meters, smart meters track a home’s electric use by hour — not by month. Companies don’t even have to send meter readers out because the devices transmit the information on their own.

“These meters have the capacity to capture information on a more defined schedule,” Wheatley said. “You can tell what someone is using on an hour-by-hour basis. That will give the homeowner a better idea of how to better control their own usage to save money.”

Wheatley said the new meters would improve the company’s efficiency. The automated process would gradually reduce dependence on meter readers and would provide the company with savings in that area. Smart meters are also expected to have lower maintenance costs because they have fewer moving parts than analog meters. Wheatley compared the old meters to a traditional wristwatch.

“Watches could have small parts that could go bad,” he said. “The smart meters, like a digital watch, they’re more accurate and less prone to breakage.”

Smart meters will also ensure the company is aware of every outage, even if it only affects one house.

“It will help us know when one of our member’s power is out,” he said. “Right now we don’t have a good way to know when individuals are out.”

That, he added, would be particularly helpful in a community like Ocean Pines where many of the homes were vacant in the winter.

Eventually, once smart meters are installed Choptank will offer customers the opportunity to save money by reducing their usage during certain peak time periods.

Wheatley maintains that there are no health risks associated with smart meters.

“We’ve seen a lot of studies that indicate there’s no risk associated with it,” he said.

He also said Gowl’s concern regarding the company controlling a home’s electric use was unfounded.

“Any control of electric use would be voluntary by the member,” he said. “We don’t have any plans to control individual usage unless they volunteer for some program we may offer in the future.”

After hearing the resident concerns voiced at last week’s board meeting, Dave Stevens, president of the board, said he would like to see Choptank host another informational meeting in the Pines before installation began.

“I think it’s a matter of interest,” he said.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.