Cleantech Market Intelligence
Maine’s High Court Endorses Smart Meter Safety Concerns
Maine’s highest court ruled recently that state utility regulators fell short in resolving health and safety concerns when they authorized Central Maine Power’s smart meter deployment – another sign that smart meters remain a focal point for public skepticism and a tough sell for utilities. The court said the Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) must return to the issue and investigate potential health and safety risks. The ruling is seen as a victory for smart meter opponents.
The future, however, is less clear. Central Maine Power (CMP) started installing smart meters in 2010, and has deployed some 600,000 of the devices in its service territory so far. Customers who do not want a smart meter installed at their house can opt out, but must pay a monthly fee of $12.
The case that wound up before Maine’s highest court stemmed from a complaint by 19 CMP customers who said that the opt-out fee was discriminatory and the PUC failed to consider safety concerns in light of new evidence. Smart meter opponents say the radio frequency (RF) emitted by the devices can cause sleep loss, dizziness, heart tremors, and other issues. Maine’s PUC rejected the complaint, so the customers took their case to the state’s high court.
The PUC is still considering how it will respond to the court’s demand that it resolve the health concerns, but said it would develop a public process for complying with the ruling. Meanwhile, CMP, the utility at the center of the controversy, says it will continue to install the remaining 2,000 smart meters it was planning to deploy, claiming the devices are safe.
Maine is not the only place where this issue has bloomed. As noted in a previous blog post, Vermont’s legislature has approved a law allowing consumers to opt out of smart meters for free. Other states, like California, Nevada, Michigan, and Texas, have opt-out programs for people opposed to smart meters.
In Pike Research’s own surveys, we have found a significant number of respondents with a negative view of smart meters. In our most recent sampling of U.S. consumers, nearly one in four (23%) had an unfavorable view of the devices (either “not very” or “not at all” favorable).
(Source: Pike Research)
While it’s clear smart meters are an integral part of smart grid deployments, regulators and utilities must recognize that pushback from some customers, no matter how few, is not a trivial matter. Concerns about safety need to be addressed, and consumer-friendly opt-out systems should be implemented. And despite current evidence that smart meters pose less of a health threat than cellphones, the lesson from Maine (and other states) is: lawmakers and courts are willing to listen to smart meter opponents who raise concerns.