Utilities say smart meters pose no risks, noting that the devices emit radio waves well below the exposure limits established by the Federal Communications Commission — and far lower than common devices such as cellphones or baby monitors.
But the effects of prolonged exposure to radio emissions on human health are unclear. Critics point out that there has been no independent scientific testing of smart meters on people living within the upgraded network.
"The industry likes to compare them to cellphones," said Libber, of Maryland Smart Meter Awareness. "The problem with cellphones is that FCC regulations are very old and antiquated."
Short of a moratorium, Libber said giving customers the option to say no to smart meters is "better than nothing at all."
Libber said he also worries about the data BGE would collect about his energy consumption. The utility said it would know only how much energy is being used in a household and not the personal habits of customers.
"If they could prove that smart meters were safe and we could control the privacy issues, I have no problem with putting a smart meter in my house," Libber said.
The Maryland Office of People's Counsel, which represents the interests of residential customers in utility matters, is not advocating an opt-out feature but does not oppose one as long as the program would not have a "detrimental impact on residential ratepayers as a whole," according to a brief filed with state regulators.
Hank Greenberg, state director of AARP Maryland, said the group is hearing from members who want to keep their analog meters.
"There might be a cost involved in that, but it would be helpful if that was an option available to people and they could make their own decisions," he said.
In the aftermath of the California Public Utilities Commission's decision to include an opt-out option that customers of the state's three utilities must pay for, just a small fraction of ratepayers have rejected smart meters.
Pacific Gas and Electric Co., the state's largest utility, said 28,000 out of 6 million electric and gas customers have elected to keep their analog meters.
Of its 1.4 million customers, San Diego Gas & Electric said only 365 ratepayers have opted out.
Southern California Edison was still collecting data, but spokesman David Song said the utility had 28,000 on a list of customers interested in opting out. The utility has 4.9 million customers.
Smart meter opt out
What: The Maryland Public Service Commission is considering whether to require the state's major utilities to offer customers a choice to opt out of receiving smart meters.
Why: Some oppose the digital, wireless devices — intended to save money by helping customers control energy use — because of concerns about health, privacy and security.
When: The PSC is scheduled to hold a hearing at 10 a.m. Tuesday.