Smart meters are safe, says Maine agency staff

by PretiFlaherty
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The staff of the Maine Public Utilities Commission has issued a report concluding that the use of "smart meters" -- advanced utility metering infrastructure capable of communicating wirelessly with the utility -- is a "safe, reasonable, and adequate utility service."

Smart meters and other new utility technologies offer the opportunity to cut ratepayer costs while enabling new and innovative services.  Building on the ubiquity of cell phones, the internet, and other devices that can communicate using radio frequency emissions, smart meters can provide utilities with real-time data on each customer's consumption of electricity.  This can eliminate the need for traditional meter readers, enable utilities to manage outages in real-time, and can open up opportunities for real-time pricing of electricity.  Many utilities have adopted smart meters and other so-called "advanced metering infrastructure", including Maine's largest electric utility Central Maine Power Co.

But some people are concerned about the safety of smart meters, and in particular with the health effects of the radio frequency emissions associated with the meters' communication system.  Utilities around the country have faced questions, and even legal challenges, over the safety of smart meters.  As CMP rolled out its smart meter program, the Maine Public Utilities Commission received a series of complaints and requests for investigation into whether CMP's advanced metering infrastructure program complied with Maine law requiring utilities to provide safe, reasonable, and adequate utility service.

After legal proceedings before the Commission and Maine's highest state court, in 2012, the Commission opened an investigation into "the health and safety issue related to CMP's installation of smart meter technology."  That investigation led to Tuesday's release of a Commission staff report (67-page PDF) summarizing the evidence it had collected and staff's conclusions.  Highlights from the report include the following findings:

  • The radio frequency (RF) emissions from CMP' s smart meters and other AMI components comply with duly promulgated federal safety regulations and other RF emission standards;
  • No state, federal, or Canadian regulatory body or health agency that has considered the health impacts of smart meters (including Maine 's Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC)) has found smart meters to be unsafe;
  • The scientific evidence presented in this proceeding is inconclusive with respect to the human health impacts from low-level RF emissions generally;
  • There are no credible, peer-reviewed scientific studies in the record that demonstrate, or even purport to demonstrate, a direct human health risk specifically from smart meter RF emissions;
  • The studies that have been presented in the record to demonstrate the risk to human health from exposure to RF-emitting devices are based on exposure to substantially higher levels of RF emissions than smart meters;
  • The relative RF emission exposure from smart meters is significantly less than other commonly used RF-emitting electronic devices; and
  • CMP' s installation and operation of its smart meter system is consistent with federal and state energy policy and is a generally accepted utility practice throughout the country.

Based on these findings, the staff report concludes that "CMP's installation and operation of its smart meter system is consistent with its statutory obligation to furnish safe, reasonable and adequate facilities and service."  That said, the report also concurs with recommendations that continued research should be done on the impacts on human health from radio frequency emissions.

It now falls to the full Commission to take up the issue.  Will the Commissioners agree with their staff's findings and conclusion?

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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