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BGE smart meter presentation leads to debate among Bel Air residents

Residents riled up about smart meters

BY KRISHANA DAVIS, kdavis@baltsun.com

6:10 AM EST, November 20, 2013

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BGE officials spoke to a packed room of contentious Bel Air customers about its new smart meter program Tuesday evening at the Bel Air branch of the Harford County Public Library.

During the presentation, attendees were often yelling over on another and sitting impatiently while trying to ask questions. Many urged residents to visit the Facebook page of Smart Meter Awareness, which is lobbying against smart meters.

Set to roll out in the first quarter of 2014 in Harford County, the enhanced meters will "improve customer service and increase efficiency," Michael Butts, director of BGE's smart meters program, said.

Smart meters are digital meters, which work on a 900 megahertz radio frequency, similar to transmission from a cordless house phone, baby monitor or garage door opener.

BGE will send all intermittent signals to the meter throughout the day to measure a customer's hourly total energy use. The total frequency duration adds up to about two minutes per day, Butts said.

Residents who opt into the smart meter system will be eligible for the Smart Energy Awards program, Butts said.

"The day before estimated high usage days, customers can voluntarily agree to drop their usage below their on-average load," Butts said. "Customers who participate will receive a rebate on the amount of energy they saved."

Last summer, BGE allowed customers four opportunities to receive smart energy awards; Butts said customers saved a average between $8 to $10 per event.

Butts said the smart meter system will help BGE reduce the peak load, in turn decreasing generation cost to the customer. About 75 percent of BGE's monthly charges are based on generation.

Since BGE is the sole energy distributor in Harford County, residents who use a different supplier can still opt into the Smart Energy Awards Program, including solar customers, Butts said.

Mario Silvestri, 82, said he does not see any advantage of opting into the smart meter system.

"The only advantage is making a dollar or two in the summertime," said Silvestri, who rose to his feet to speak to the room. "I'm 82; I'm going to be dead in a few years. I want to be able to turn my air conditioning up and be comfortable."

Silvestri, who lives in Hickory Hills, where a fire displaced 24 residents Nov. 14, said he is also concerned about potential fire hazards from the new unmanned smart meter system.

Under the smart meter system, BGE engineers will no longer need to visit meter locations to turn service on or off or read the home's energy use level.

Butts, of BGE, said there have been no reports of fires caused by BGE's smart meter system.

Each meter has a temperature sensor, which sends an alarm back to the control center," Butts said. "A BGE crew member will be there within an hour to check it out."

Butts said each meter has a life expectancy of about 15 years, but could withstanding a longer timeline. He said all meters corrode with age, which increases the chance of fires.

No BGE employees will be fired with cuts to meter reader positions, Butts said. He said workers have been transferred to other departments or retired.

Customers who opt for the smart meters will also gain access to their usage via BGE online, so they can track their energy consumption and receive a more accurate gauge of their monthly bill.

"This can help customers stay within a budget," Butts said. "You can even get an alert when you are getting close to your budget."

Among speculation of privacy concerns, Butts said under the smart meter contract BGE "will not sell customers energy consumption data for profit." He said the data is used for customer benefits and internal business such as billing.

Butts said there will be no cost to the consumer to opt into the smart meter program. Customers who choose to keep older legacy readers, which require meter readers, will be charged a one time payment and monthly service fee.

"I realize there are some people who do not want the meter," Butts said."You have the right to defer and we will not install the meter. You can e-mail, call or send a letter letting us know you don't want it."

Customers will be notified about the cost to defer the smart meter once the Maryland Public Service Commission has ruled on an amount, Butts said. He said BGE as well as other area energy providers like Pepco have submitted deferment cost suggestions to the commission.

Butts said customers will be notified two to four weeks in advance of smart meter transition in their area. He said customers can defer now or wait until that formal notification period.

During the smart meter installation period, customers can expect a brief lapse in energy, Butts said. Customers who have gas meters will also have those replaced at the same time. This replacement could cause about a 30-minute interruption in gas service, Butts said.