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Smart Meters the topic of BGE evening meeting in Arbutus

By Julie Baughman, jbaughman@tribune.com

12:44 PM EST, January 25, 2013

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The debate over Baltimore Gas & Electric's Smart Meters came to Arbutus Thursday, Jan. 24.

BGE is scheduled to begin installing Smart Meters in the southwest portion of Baltimore County this month, company representatives said at an informational meeting.

Fewer than 10 people attended the evening session at the Arbutus Social Hall regarding the meters, which are part of BGE's Smart Grid program and communicate hourly energy usage directly to BGE over a wireless signal.

Michael Butts, director of Smart Grid at BGE, said this constant feed of communication, to be documented online, will provide benefits to customers, especially compared to the current readings that only occur every 30 days.

"Now, the meter is recording how much energy you use every hour, and we give that information to you on the website," he said.

"Having that information is really useful if a customer wants to make use of that," Butts said. "One reason is, they can see their profile and they can see how they use energy on an hourly basis. It also allows us to give them more customized tips on the website for how they can save energy."

But the constant presence of that signal is also a concern for some activists who fear future health issues from the increase in electronic traffic.

Wi-Fi service for computers, cordless phones and other wireless devices create "electrosmog," according to Rebecca Hanna, a member of Maryland Smart Meter Awareness, an organization with more than 500 members whose goal is to educate citizens on the danger of Smart Meters.

Hanna was one of three activists at the meeting who handed out fliers after the session.

After the meeting she said that electrosmog, which allegedly causes health problems such as cancer, will be increased by the installation of Smart Meters.

Butts said on Friday that the amount of radio waves emitted from the meters is considerably less than other household items.

"It's considerably less, and in some cases thousands of times less, than, say, talking on a cell phone for example," he said.

Hanna said the amount of radio waves will spike as the devices are installed.

"When they put the Smart Meter on all the homes in your neighborhood, there will be a time when it goes live," Hanna said. "When it's live, it means that, just like the cell tower and the cell phone, there will be the router and the Smart Meters and all of a sudden the entire neighborhood will be a network of new electrosmog that will be on 24/7 for the rest of your life that you have no control over."

Butts said Friday that this is not the case.

"The Smart Meter, it communicates several times (a day)," he said. "But when you add up all of those communications, it's only communicating for about two minutes per day on average.

"It's not like it's a constant source of radio waves."

Even with the controversy about electrosmog, one resident's opposition was on a much more basic level.

"I don't know what I'm going to get out of a Smart Meter that I don't already know," he said. "I know when I use most of my electricity."

There won't be any additional cost to the consumer for Smart Meters and the installation is free.

Meters can be installed without an appointment as long as the meter is outside and not restricted by a locked gate or dog.

Smart Meter installation will begin in Arbutus sometime in April.

BGE hopes to have all customers installed with Smart Meters by the end of 2014.