Maryland Lawmakers trying to stop smart meter opt-out fees Bill would stop utilities from charging fees

by Kate S. Alexander

Electric utility customers who decline to use a smart meter in Maryland face both one-time and recurring fees. Lawmakers are considering doing away with those charges.

The Maryland Public Service Commission allows customers to opt out of having smart meters, which wirelessly collect electric usage data and do not require someone to read the meter. However, the commission also lets utilities charge those who refuse a smart meter.

For Pepco customers, refusing a smart meter means a $75 one-time fee plus a monthly fee of $14.

Pepco is one of four utilities in the state charging $11 to $17 per month and $75 up front for not upgrading to a smart meter. Baltimore Gas and Electric, Delmarva Power and Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative also charge for opting out.

A bill proposed by Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden (D-Dist. 45) of Baltimore City and cross-filed in the House by Del. Glen Glass (R-Dist. 34A) of Aberdeen would require utilities to stop charging those who refuse a smart meter and would require utilities to notify customers before installing a smart meter.

Proposed amendments to the Senate bill would allow utilities to charge different rates to customers based on actual costs for the type of meter involved.

Del. Al Carr (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington is a cosponsor of the House bill.

“I’m glad that this bill has been put in because it has been a concern of mine and of my constituents about fees approved by the PSC for those people who do not want a smart meter,” Carr said.

“This matter has already been decided by the PSC after extensive public participation and we do not support legislation that overturns the Commission’s decision,” Pepco spokesman Marcus Beal wrote in an email on Tuesday.

Pepco spokeswoman Courtney Nogas has said that smart meters benefit customers. Pepco will operate more efficiently, she said, improving restoration times by identifying outages remotely and laying the foundation for a future smart grid.

Smart meters also can save customers money, Nogas has said. The utility offers a credit when customers use less energy during periods of high demand.

Jonathan Libber, president of Baltimore-based Maryland Smart Meter Awareness said some people have seen their electric bills increase exponentially with a smart meter. He said he knows of customers who have gone back to an analog or so-called “legacy” meter and had their bills return to normal.

Maryland Smart Meter Awareness is an organization that seeks to educate the public about the potential dangers of smart meters and other wireless devices.

Pepco customer Deborah Vollmer of Chevy Chase has said she has refused to pay the fees for keeping her analog electric meter.

Vollmer told The Gazette in September that she refuses to pay the fees and feels the fees are extortion.

“It is punishment for exercising my right to opt out of their program,” she said at the time.

Libber also said the fees are punitive.

“The fees really are a penalty to discourage you from opting out,” he said.

Libber said the bill aims to establish fair charges for those without smart meters.

While his organization doesn’t believe there should be no cost for refusing a smart meter, he said that what is charged should be justified and fair.

The proposed bill is “not complete justice for everybody,” he said, but it attempts to stop unfair fees.

kalexander@gazette.net

source: http://www.gazette.net/article/20150218/NEWS/150219307/1022/lawmakers-trying-to-stop-smart-meter-opt-out-fees&template=gazette

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