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PSC to conduct further hearings on smart meters

Monday - 1/7/2013, 6:03pm  ET

Associated Press

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - In a divided decision, Maryland's Public Service Commission announced Monday that ratepayers of three utilities can potentially opt out of installing smart meters, and that the commission needs additional proceedings to decide the best course.

Three of the panel's five commissioners _ Harold Williams, Lawrence Brenner and W. Kevin Hughes _ said customers of Potomac Electric Power Company, Baltimore Gas and Electric Company and Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative Inc. need to have an additional option to installing smart meters.

They said the PSC will hold additional hearings to determine whether the option is either to allow customers to retain their current analog electric meters or require all customers to receive a smart meter but with the option of installing it to operate in a radio frequency free or near radio frequency free manner. Critics have raised concerns that the radio waves used to transmit data pose health risks.

"Whichever option we ultimately choose, we will require those ratepayers that exercise the option to bear appropriate costs," the three said in the decision.

The three note that they may ultimately go along with the minority opinion. But they say they don't believe the current record establishes that allowing customers to keep an analog meter would increase costs so much that the option shouldn't be considered.

Two commissioners, Chairman Doug Nazarian and Kelly Speakes-Backman, dissented in the decision. They say when the panel approved smart meters, the decision was made based on the finding that the benefits to customers outweighed the risks the companies and customers would assume.

Smart meters are designed to enable conservation and savings when consumers know how much power costs at different times of the day. The meters also are designed to allow power producers to respond better to outages and increases in demand.

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