AUGUSTA — State lawmakers will let Maine’s Public Utilities Commission decide whether Central Maine Power Co. customers can choose not to have smart meters installed at their homes and businesses.

The Legislature’s Utilities and Energy Committee decided Monday that utility regulators are in the best position to figure out the merits, costs and effects of letting some people opt out of CMP’s controversial smart meter project.

The committee came to that conclusion by effectively killing a bill that would have imposed a one-year ban on installation of the meters.

It tabled action on another bill, which would let customers opt out by requesting an alternative to a wireless device, such as a hard-wired meter.

The vote on each bill was 9-0.

In declining to make a recommendation on the opt-out bill, the committee followed the protocol of not pre-empting an issue that’s getting a formal review by the PUC. At least seven citizen complaints have been filed with the commission, and most are consolidated into a single case centered on the opt-out idea.


The lawmakers’ choice to step back was reinforced by news Monday that confidential settlements talks between CMP, state officials and smart-meters’ opponents had broken down. That dashed hopes that the sides could reach a compromise outside the PUC process.

The parties now are waiting for the PUC to release its timetable for deciding the case; they anticipate seeing a schedule this week.

It has been six months since CMP began its project to replace 600,000 mechanical electricity meters with wireless digital meters. The $200 million project is receiving half of its funding from the federal government, in an effort to upgrade the nation’s power grid.

CMP has replaced 167,000 meters. Some customers are unhappy with their new smart meters, citing concerns about health effects, privacy and security breaches. About 5,000 customers have asked not to have the meters installed. CMP is honoring such requests for the time being.

CMP has lobbied in favor of having the PUC, rather than lawmakers, decide the fate of smart meters. It continues to assert that allowing some people to opt out permanently would require a costly, duplicative system for reading and maintaining two sets of meters.

The PUC’s staff has been examining the costs of several options, which are highly technical and subject to various assumptions. The assumptions depend in part on what alternative meter technology might be chosen.


A larger unknown is how many customers would decide to opt out, and whether they would have to pay the full cost associated with their decision.

During discussions before the Utilities and Energy Committee, the sponsor of the opt-out bill, Rep. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough, suggested that many customers she speaks with would be happy just to keep their mechanical electricity meters.

A member of the committee, Rep. Jon Hinck, D-Portland, said he doesn’t want that choice to leave CMP ratepayers with higher bills. Allowing any opt out, he said, would create new costs.

The actual cost may not be known for years, said the senior counsel for the Public Advocate’s Office. If the PUC approves an opt-out plan, rates will likely have to be adjusted in the future, said Eric Bryant, when the financial impact is fully known.

Bryant restated his skepticism about the smart meter program, questioning whether the technology will work as CMP expects. He also said he doubts that many customers will be able to change their power use patterns enough to benefit from the time-of-use rates that CMP envisions.

But performance questions will likely take a back seat, for now, to the issue of whether some customers can decline the smart meters, and under what conditions.


That seems like a good compromise for Elisa Boxer-Cook of Scarborough, a lead organizer of smart-meter opponents.

“I’m hopeful it will be something fair to everyone,” she said after the committee’s votes.

Finding a reasonable compromise that gives residents a choice also reflects the desire of Gov. Paul LePage, said Ken Fletcher, who directs the state’s energy office.

Fletcher, a former legislator who served on the energy committee, said it makes sense for the Legislature to defer to the PUC on smart meters. “I think it’s the prudent thing to do.”


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