The Maine Public Utilities Commission has voted to require Central Maine Power to offer an opt-out program for customers who choose not to have a standard smart meter installed as part of CMP’s smart meter program. Customers in CMP service territory will have two new opt-out options: the availability of the smart meter with its transmitter turned off and the ability to retain the existing (or analog) meter.

The customer who chooses an opt-out option will pay the associated costs of that option: a) smart meter with transmitter off will carry an initial charge of $20.00 and a monthly charge of $10.50; b) existing analog meter option will carry the initial charge of $40.00 and a monthly charge of $12.00. In order to address concerns of low-income customers, those who are eligible for Low Income Heating Assistance (LIHEAP), will be charged only 50% of the cost of their chosen opt-out option. CMP is required to develop and implement a smart meter opt-out communication plan intended to inform customers about the program during the company’s deployment of their smart meter program.

Commissioner Vafiades said: “Based on sound public policy, as allowed by statute and taking into consideration all public correspondence and filings, we conclude that offering a smart meter opt-out options is reasonable and in the public interest. For the long term success of smart meter implementation and to maximize its potential to the fullest, the public needs to be actively engaged in monitoring their usage and real-time price of electricity and modifying their behavior accordingly. To achieve this goal, we need to shift the focus to the benefits of smart meters and allow the small minority to opt out.”

Commissioner Littell stated: “We have reviewed every filing, every complaint and every letter sent to this Commission regarding smart meters. Based on our review, we conclude that any CMP residential or small commercial customer should have four choices: 1) the default smart meter which will become the standard meter in CMP territory; 2) the ability to select a smart meter with the transmitter-off; 3) the ability to keep the customer’s existing analog meter; or, 4) the ability to move the new smart meters elsewhere on their property at the customer’s expense.”

This decision is the culmination of an Investigation the Commission opened in January to address five separate 10-person complaints brought to the Commission regarding CMP’s smart meter program (docket numbers: 2010-345, 2010-389, 2010-398, 2010-400, 2011-085).

The Commission made decisions in two other related cases. Because CMP was found to have adequately addressed the complainant’s concerns and because the Commission had already required a smart meter opt-out option, the Commission dismissed a 10-person complaint that requested an investigation into safety issues including fires associated with smart meters and addressing the training of the meter technicians working for CMP to install smart meters (docket number: 2010-346). In another 10-person complaint (docket number: 2010-120), the Commission voted to dismiss a request for an investigation into the interference of CMP smart meters with consumer electronics and medical devices that sought to re-open the smart meter proceeding. Through information provided to them, the Commission found that CMP is adequately addressing the concerns about smart meter inference with various electrical devices and that two federal agencies (Federal Communications Commission, Federal Drug Administration) have the required expertise on radio frequency affect on electronic devices and they had approved the smart meters for use.

This winter the Commission received seven 10-person complaints regarding smart meters each requesting a Commission investigation of aspects of Central Maine Power (CMP)’s smart meter initiative. Five of the complaints were combined into an investigation, which was opened on Jan. 4. The Investigation examined several factors: the possibility of local opt-outs to the CMP smart meter program; the possible effect of such an opt-out on the original federal Department of Energy (DOE) grant which helped fund approximately half the cost of the program; the availability of hard-wire alternatives from CMP; and cost implications for any alternatives to the current program. The Investigation sought to discover what alternatives are available, technically feasible, affordable for the utility and ratepayers, and aligned with overall smart grid implementation goals.

CMP’s Automated Metering Infrastructure (AMI) program, considered a “smart grid” technology, was originally approved by the Commission in February 2010 (Docket Number 2007-215) to improve customer service, enhance storm restoration efforts, reduce utility operational costs, save ratepayer and utility costs, and ultimately provide customers with necessary tools to use electricity more efficiently.