Smart meters became the subject of discussion during the Jarrettsville/Norrisville Community Council meeting Wednesday night, but the discussion did not become as heated as its been in other areas of Harford County.
Baltimore Gas and Electric is moving from traditional analog meters to smart meters, which communicates electric usage from the customer's home directly to BGE through radio frequency.
The new meters have been met with controversy across Harford, with many residents calling the electronic data collection an invasion of privacy. Critics of the meters also have cited growing health concerns regarding radio waves.
BGE has begun installations of the new meters in some areas of the county. The Jarrettsville and Norrisville areas are not yet at installation, said Bob Oberle of BGE community affairs, who attended Wednesday's meeting. He has been making the rounds at this month's community council meetings to talk about the program.
A presentation BGE gave about the meters last November at Bel Air Town Hall was greeted with angry responses from a number of town residents. On April 7, Oberle gave a similar presentation at the Joppa Community Council's monthly meeting and received some equally hostile comments from one resident.
Oberle said the smart meters will provide BGE with reading a your home six times a day for about a total of two to three minutes. He said smart meters ensure estimated bills will become an issue of the past.
"BGE will also use the reading information to determine the demand for electricity in the area," Oberle said. Users will be able to track their electricity use online and see how much other residents in their area are consuming.
"They [utility planners] are trying to get a handle on the demand," Oberle explained. "They look at all of the energy being used in the area in case they need to buy more because of a demand on the market. It's to avoid brownouts and blackouts."
Skepticism abounds, however, particularly regarding how BGE will use the electricity information gathered through the smart meters.
Nancy Dance, who has lived in her Jarrettsville home for 30 years, said she believes the information gathered may be shared with others and not protected by BGE. She said she is concerned with her privacy.
"You can tell a lot about someone based on their usage," Dance said. "You can tell when you're not home."
Dance said she is also concerned about the health risk involved from the radio frequency used to transmit the information from the meter.
Oberle said other household appliances such as garage door openers and microwaves use radio frequencies. He said studies show the radio waves emitted by the smart meters are not harmful.
BGE is also allowing customers with smart meters to enroll in the BGE Smart Energy Rewards and participate in the Energy Savings Day, Oberle said. He said it's a voluntary program to earn credit by using less energy load during pre-specified high energy usage days in the summertime.
Oberle said customers also have the option to opt out of the smart meter for a fee.
"Right now you don't have to have one, but the Public Service Commission came out with these opt out charges," Oberle said.
Oberle said initially BGE planned to charge customers an upfront fee of $100 and then a $15 monthly fee to opt out. He said the commission ruled to change the upfront fee to $75 and the monthly charge to $11.
Dance said she has already opted out of her smart meter. She said she doesn't plan on ever getting one.
According to Oberle, you can opt out of the smart meter by calling, emailing or sending a letter to BGE.