Maine Public Utilities Commission didn’t address smart meter safety, court says

By DAVID SHARP,The Associated Press
Posted July 12, 2012, at 8:03 p.m.
A new Central Maine Power smart meter displays electricity usage at a business in Freeport in fall 2010.

AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty
A new Central Maine Power smart meter displays electricity usage at a business in Freeport in fall 2010.

PORTLAND, Maine — Maine’s highest court ruled Thursday that state regulators failed to adequately address safety concerns about Central Maine Power’s smart meters but the ruling had no immediate impact on more than 600,000 smart meters already installed in homes and businesses across the state.

The Supreme Judicial Court ordered the Maine Public Utilities Commission to reconsider a complaint that raised health concerns, and lead plaintiff, Ed Friedman of Bowdoinham, urged the panel to use the opportunity “to hold full evidentiary hearings on this and look at it under the bright lights.”

“We understand that the horse is out of the barn in terms of the meters being in, but they should’ve vetted these smart meters for safety before they were deployed instead of waiting until they’re deployed to see that there’s well-known biological effects,” Friedman said.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission issued a brief statement saying the panel is considering how best to comply with the supreme court’s unanimous ruling.

“The commission is reviewing the order to determine what steps must be taken to comply with the court’s decision. We have not reached a decision on what process will be required to do so. Any decision about process will be determined by commissioners in a public session,” the statement said.

Smart meters transmit information about electricity use to CMP’s headquarters in Augusta using wireless technology similar to cellphones which emits radio frequency radiation. CMP says smart meters are safe, cut energy use and allow utilities to pinpoint problems during power outages more quickly.

At issue is whether the state regulators shirked their legal mandate to ensure the delivery of safe and reasonable utility services in approving CMP’s smart meters.

Critics also contend the smart meter program poses constitutional problems related to privacy and trespass, but the supreme court dismissed those claims.

As for safety, lawyers for the Maine Public Utilities Commission previously said there was no need for the panel to tackle safety concerns that already had been addressed by federal agencies. They also contended an opt-out provision provided an alternative for people with health worries.

Critics say radio frequency radiation emitted by smart meters can cause sleep loss, heart palpitations, dizziness and other problems. They say the PUC had a duty to look into those health concerns and that the opt-out provision doesn’t assure safety of those who keep smart meters. Friedman said the opt-out provision is meaningless for people who live in congested neighborhoods where they’re surrounded by smart meters.

CMP, which contends smart meters are safe, said the supreme court’s ruling has no immediate impact. The utility said it would continue installing the remaining 2,000 smart meters.

Federal stimulus dollars funded roughly half the $200 million cost of the smart meter project.

“The system is in place and it’s operating. We use it every day. This decision isn’t going to change any of our operations in the short term,” said spokesman John Carroll.


 Smart Meters: Friedman vs Maine Public Utilities Commission and Central Maine Power Company

January 11, 2012.  On February 25, 2010, Maine Public Utility Commission issued an order to approve the installation of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) by Central Maine  Power Company (CMP).  The development of this technology was authorized by both federal and state legislation but neither the U.S. Congress nor the Maine Legislature has enacted legislation that mandates participation by electricity customers, or that authorizes utilities to implement mandatory programs.

Federal support for the development of smart meter systems began with the Energy Policy Act of 2005, was supplemented with passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, and funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which set aside $11 billion for the creation of a smart grid.  The Energy Policy Act of 2005 established an optional standard by which utilities are required to make a time-variable rate structure (often accomplished with wireless, digital smart meters, but also with analog meters and wired meters) available “upon customer request.”

On July 29, 2011, the Appellants filed their ten-person Complaint. The Complaint includes extensive citations to peer-reviewed science reports and other documents and publications in support of the allegations that include health and safety, privacy, property rights, constitutional violations, and discrimination.

CMP responded to the Complaint with a one page submission on August 11, 2011. On August 31, 2011, the Commission dismissed the Complaint.  The Appellants filed a Motion to Reconsider. The Motion was denied on October 11, 2011.  The Appellants filed an appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court on January 11, 2012.

For those who are interested in following this case,

1.  Ten-Person Complaint, click here.

2.  Notice of Appeal, click here.

2.  Final Petition for Reconsideration, click here.

3.  Brief of Appellants, click here.

4.  Appendix to Briefs, click here.

5.  Supplement of Legal Authorities, click here.

Attorney for Appellants:

Bruce A. McGlauflin, Esquire
Petruccelli, Martin & Haddow, LLP
Portland, Maine, U.S.A.



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