Smart Meter Brings Higher Fees

030714_Smart-Meter-Brings-Higher-FeesMaryland residents who wish to opt out of new wireless electric meters will pay to keep the current analog meters.

The Maryland Public Service Commission established one-time upfront and monthly fees for customers of BGE, Pepco, DPL and SMECO who don’t want to have smart meters installed on their properties. The upfront fees can be paid over three months.

For BGE, which has 1.2 million customers throughout Maryland, the PSC established an upfront fee of $75 and a monthly fee of $11. For Pepco, which has customers in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, the upfront fee is $75 with a monthly fee of $14.

“The commission acknowledges that allowing customers to opt out of receiving smart meters will require the utilities to maintain a separate infra- structure,” the PSC’s statement said.

The commission also ordered utilities to keep track of opt-out related costs for future analysis and possible fee adjustments. The companies were also ordered to contact customers who previously deferred smart meter installation within 60 days of the order, and if customers do not respond, they will remain opted out and subject to the fees.

The order, released on Feb. 26, said fees will become effective after the first billing after July 1, 2014.

Members of Maryland Smart Meter Awareness, a group opposed to the technology, are not satisfied. Jonathan Libber, the group’s president, argued that the fees were not justified in terms of what opting out will cost BGE and was concerned that low-income customers who want to opt out won’t be able to.

“It definitely is going to cost them money to maintain [analog meters]; there is certainly a separate billing system,” said Libber. “Our response is, we pay for our system, and you pay for your system.”

Mount Washington resident Allan Sherr is going to opt out of smart meter installation. He was disappointed but not surprised about the fees.

“I’m not happy. It’s not going to change my life any,” said Sherr. “I’m certainly willing to pay it, but I’m mad that I have to.”

While utility companies maintain that smart meter technology is efficient and safe and allows customers to monitor usage more closely, those opposed to the devices say they emit dangerous levels of radiation, the data is susceptible to hacking, and meters can overheat and catch fire. They also claim that BGE can see what appliances are being used and how many people are home in a house.

BGE refutes the privacy concerns, claiming that the company is receiving data it already procures, albeit more frequently, and argues that the radiation emitted by the devices is weaker than that emitted by micro-waves, wireless routers, laptops and cell phones.

Several health organizations, including the World Health Organization and The American Academy of Environmental Science, have recommended that people with certain diseases and conditions stay away from smart meters and classify the electromagnetic fields associated with wireless communication as possibly carcinogenic to humans.

BGE plans to contact customers who deferred installation in the coming weeks, according to a statement. About one million smart meters and upgraded gas modules have been installed in BGE’s customer area. The company is about halfway through smart meter installation and has been actively installing the devices in Baltimore County and Baltimore City since late last year, spokeswoman Rhea Marshall said.

Legislation pending in both the state House and Senate aims to address concerns over fees and privacy.

Delegate Glen Glass’ two bills, HB 331 and 332, would prohibit companies from selling customer data to third parties and eliminate opt-out fees.

“Having to pay an extreme fee to the utility company for not installing electric equipment is intimidating to many Maryland citizens,” Glass said in a statement. “These fees discriminate against people such as the poor, senior citizens, single-family households and families of low income (including many minorities).”

Sen. Delores Kelley’s bill, SB 880, would have the PSC conduct a rate case to further examine the fees, require utility companies to givecustomers written notice prior to smart meter installation, prevent companies from turning over customer data to a third party other than for billing and customer support purposes and would allow the PSC to impose penalties of $1,000 if companies breach customers’ privacy.

Kelley is also concerned by data she’s seen showing that analog meters last 30 to 40 years and smart meters last just three to five years, which would mean analog customers are being charged for continual maintenance to a product they aren’t using.

“My bill took the position from the beginning: You pay for a reasonable cost of what you have,” she said. “I’m trying to be fair and balanced to the company and to the customer.”

mshapiro@jewishtimes.com

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