Health, Privacy Concerns Hover Over SMECO Plan for Smart Meters

By Guy Leonard, The County Times

HOLLYWOOD, Md.—The Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO) says that two pilot projects which employ advanced meters that eliminate the need for manual readings have been successful and they have now applied to the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) to use the so-called Smart Meters with all of their residential and commercial customers.

“We’re regulated by the Public Service Commission and they have control over us going to full scale deployment,” said Austin J. Slater, president and CEO of SMECO. “The meters will pay for themselves in utilities and operational cost savings.”

Slater said the meters were installed in homes in the St. Charles development in Charles County and at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in St. Mary’s County and have proved successful, and the filing with PSC to move ahead with full installation was June 13.

Slater estimated that the savings from the Smart Meter project would be enough to pay for their cost over the next 10 years; beyond that the savings should increase, he said.

Utility providers PEPCO and BG&E have already gone to Smart Meter technology, Slater said, and SMECO is following their lead.

“We’re trailing them by about a year,” Slater said.

The project aims to save money by eliminating the need to send out employees to read meters manually as well as by giving automatic notices of electrical outages instead of having a crew go out to confirm it.

Customers will also be able to view their electricity consumption on-line, Slater said, which would allow them to regulate how much power they consume throughout the day and better control their bills.

But not everyone believes that Smart Meters are as efficient as they have been billed and they even believe that the constant radio waves the units send out are harmful to residents who live right next to them.

Jonathan Libber, of Maryland Smart Meter Awareness, said his group would soon file with the PSC to have the body intervene to stop the installation of these meters until they have been proved safe.

Libber said there is no information to suggest whether the radio transmissions from the meters are detrimental to people’s health, and he disputed claims that the meters broadcasts were minimal.

“The most serious problem is there’s never been a study done on the health affects of these meters,” Libber said. “It’s a very powerful form of radiation … it’s like having a cell tower attached to your house.”

Slater said that such claims were “wildly inaccurate” that the cell phones have 50,000 times the electromagnetic output that Smart Meters do.

Libber said the study quoted by Slater was “bogus” and promulgated by utilities companies as a way to support their projects.

Beyond the health concerns there are also worries about privacy, Libber said.

Smart Meter technology, which is wireless in nature, is open to hacking and misuse by anyone able to access the information.

“They’ll be able to figure out all kinds of things about you,” Libber said. “Like when you are home and when you’re not, when you’re asleep, when you’re awake and what kind of appliances you use.”

Libber said something like fiber optic cable technology is a better option.

“It’s much, much harder to hack,” he said.

Slater said the technology would be protected to ensure that customer privacy is ensured.

Libber also disputed the premise that the Smart Meters would save customers money, because evidence from states like California where they have been used show that they have not resulted in anyone using them to curb their power consumption.


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