Md. regulators to provide a smart-meter option

The Maryland Public Service Commission said Monday that it will give energy customers a choice on smart meters, but it hasn't decided yet whether to allow a total opt-out or to make the alternative a smart meter installed in a way to limit radio-frequency emissions.

"Although we have not found convincing evidence that smart meters pose any health risks to the public at large, we acknowledge a good-faith belief on the part of some ratepayers to the contrary," the commission said in its order.

The panel will hold more hearings before deciding which option to allow for those with concerns about smart meters: sticking with the existing analog meter, or having utilities "minimize or eliminate" emissions by special request with such measures as installing the meter farther from a customer's home or using alternative methods of communicating meter data.

Opponents of smart meters cite privacy and safety concerns in addition to fears about health risks. Proponents — including the utilities — say the meters are safe and provide both electric providers and customers with useful information.

Two of the panel's five commissioners — Kelly Speakes-Backman and outgoing Chairman Douglas R.M. Nazarian — wrote a dissent to the order. They said smart meters present no "systemic" privacy, security or health risk and argued that opt-outs should not be allowed. Instead, they favor the alternative installation method.

"If the Commission were to allow customers to opt out of receiving an advanced meter, it would undermine the fundamental underpinnings of the business cases on which we approved these deployments," the two commissioners wrote. "Even if only a small number of customers were to opt out, the companies will now be required to maintain parallel meter data management systems and retain legacy meter reading staff and infrastructure — costs that [smart-meter] deployments were designed to eliminate."

The other commissioners said they need more information to judge how high the costs of allowing opt-outs could be.

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