EDITORIAL – Opt-out option needed for CMP's smart meters

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The debate over the ongoing installation by Central Maine Power of so-called “smart meters” is at its most basic about the potential for new technology to create savings and efficiency, and the possible long-term impact of that technology on the public’s health and well being.

But it is also about the ability of residents to decide, within reason, what a government-approved monopoly like CMP can install on one’s property. And it is from that point of view that the Maine Public Utilities Commission should order the company to allow homeowners to opt out of the smart meter program.

The PUC is now considering a complaint, filed by Elisa Boxer-Cook of Scarborough along with 11 other residents, to halt the smart meter program, a $192 million, two-year project to install 620,000 devices in Maine. The complaint cites, among other factors, the incomplete research regarding the potential negative health effects of the smart meters, which send information on electricity use over a wireless network.

Following complaints by residents against CMP, which has already installed about 60,000 smart meters, town councils in Scarborough and Cape Elizabeth have passed resolutions asking for the company to delay further installation until more information is available. In Scarborough, a letter sent last week to the PUC by councilors asks the agency to create an opt-out program.

CMP argues that the new devices are safe, with output similar to that of a cordless phone, and an integral part of a future power grid designed to save money and cut down on the use of fossil fuels. A spokesman said last week that an opt-out policy would dilute the benefits of the smart meter program, and the company would not put one in place unless ordered to do so by the PUC.

A review by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention gave the devices a passing grade, as well.

“Maine CDC’s review did not indicate any consistent or convincing evidence to support a concern for health effects related to the use of radiofrequency in the range of frequencies and power used by smart meters,” the agency said in a press release.

But the health impact of wireless technology remains a contentious issue in the medical field, and will be until more conclusive, long-term research can be done on technology that only recently has become widespread.

With that in mind, the state should allow residents to exercise their own judgment, and decide for themselves whether they want to allow a smart meter on their property.

Ben Bragdon is the managing editor of Current Publishing.

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