The verdict is in regarding the safety of smart meters. After a lengthy investigation, state regulators ruled this week that the devices, which send a wireless radio signal to the utility that owns them, don’t pose a health threat.

So the public, the government and utility officials should shift focus to a bigger question: whether and how smart meters are living up to the expectation that they’ll save consumers money and help modernize our electric grid. And while Central Maine Power’s smart meter program has been a financial plus for the utility itself, it could be reaching many more customers than it is now.

In Maine, the potential benefits of digital meters took a back seat to health concerns early on, soon after the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s 2010 decision approving CMP’s plan to replace analog meters with digital ones. A judge ordered a PUC inquiry in 2012, and the commission issued its preliminary findings about smart meter safety on Tuesday.

Who will pay the cost of opting out is still up in the air, but the outcome of the fee debate will affect only the 1 percent of CMP customers who’ve chosen to keep the old-style analog devices. Of far greater impact is whether CMP has delivered on the projected advantages of smart meters: energy savings and operational benefits.

The PUC addressed these issues in an audit, concluding that the smart meter program has resulted in operational spending cuts, by allowing CMP to calculate bills without having to send workers to read meters and by making it easier and faster for the utility to learn about and remedy power failures.

The audit also praised Energy Manager, a Web portal that lets CMP customers track their energy use over time, see their cost and compare it to the average. But the big missing piece is access to programs that enable customers to lower their monthly bills by doing their loads of dishes or laundry at times when electricity is cheaper.

CMP does offer a “time-of-use” rate for electricity used during off-peak hours, after 8 p.m. and before 7 a.m. But just 5 percent of CMP customers take advantage of that rate, which is available only to home and small-business customers who take the state’s standard offer.

Other CMP users won’t have access to these cheaper rates until the utility’s new billing system is online, which won’t be until sometime in 2017. These consumers get electricity from competitive suppliers — and they account for a third of CMP’s customer base. So giving them access to variable-rate programs could both drive up participation in those programs and drive down the need to fire up power plants that add cost and air pollution.

Smart meters offer a lot of information, but it’s clear that Mainers are just beginning to see how to use this data to monitor and control their power consumption. Now that smart meter safety is no longer in the spotlight, utility customers and regulators should keep the pressure on their electricity suppliers to offer rate alternatives that can save them money and energy.

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