Opponents voice concerns over Maine smart meters
By ALANNA DURKIN, Associated Press
Updated 2:24 pm, Wednesday, August 7, 2013
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Opponents of smart meters installed by electricity companies said Wednesday the technology can lead to headaches and more serious health issues and urged the state to allow Maine residents to opt out of installing the technology without having to pay a fee.
Maine's Public Utilities Commission held a public hearing at the University of Maine at Augusta as part of an ongoing investigation into health risks of the radiofrequency radiation used in the more than 600,000 smart meters throughout the state that wirelessly send electricity use information to Central Maine Power. Maine is taking the closest known look into the health impact of the meters of any other state or commission, said Commissioner David Littell.
CMP says smart meters, which use technology to transmit information about electricity usage to the company's headquarters in Augusta, have been proven safe by health agencies in the federal government and several other states. But Kennebunk resident Donna Giroux told the commission that she became extremely ill and experienced facial burning, weakness and cognitive and neurological effects after smart meters were installed in her neighborhood and near her office.
"As these networks increase and intensify, more and more people will become sick and may not be able to understand the source of their illness," she said. "My medical doctor said that people like me are just the tip of the iceberg of what's to come."
The commission expected a slew of people to testify, but only a handful of opponents showed up Wednesday afternoon. The hearing is expected to continue into the evening.
Smart meters are designed to allow the company to respond to outages more quickly and save time and money by avoiding traveling thousands of miles across the state reading meters, said CMP spokesman John Carroll. Users also can get detailed and immediate information on how much electricity they use, allowing them to scale back usage and save money, he said.
Residents can opt-out, but have to pay a $40 one-time fee and then $12 a month for an analog meter. About 8,000 Mainers have chosen not to install the meters, Carroll said. He said the company believes Maine ratepayers shouldn't have to pay for a small group of people who choose not to install the meters.
But critics say people shouldn't have to pay the price for opting out of something they see as causing medical problems.
Thirty-seven-year-old Portland resident Stuart Cobb said he was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2010, which his doctors have attributed to his using a cellphone. He is now cancer-free, but he said his family has decided to stop using all wireless devices. He called it "ludicrous" that they would be forced to pay extra every month as a result.
A group of opponents filed a complaint against the meters in 2011. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled last year that the Public Utilities Commission hadn't adequately addressed safety concerns about CMP's smart meters, prompting a reopening of an investigation focused primarily on the health risks.
There soon will be more than 60 million smart meters throughout the country, Carroll said. He said the technology already is widely used in baby monitors, invisible pet fences, remote-controlled toys and other products.
"If you believe that this is unsafe technology and that you need to respond to it ... then it calls into question an enormous amount of our modern technology," he said.