Utilities continue smart meter rollout in calvert spotlight somdnews.com s gashi

“It’s a game changer for our relationship with our customers,” said SMECO President and CEO Joe Slater in an interview with The Calvert Recorder. “It gives our customers who want more control over their electric usage — it gives them a lot more information than they’ve ever had.”

Slater said traditionally customers would have to wait until the end of the month after SMECO read the meter and rendered a bill 30 to 40 days after they started using the electricity. “Now with this particular technology, we’re going to give customers the ability to actually go to a web portal and look at their daily use and they can set alarms and triggers for high use and be really sensitive to consumption in the household,” explained the CEO.

Slater also believes the smart meter, enabled with two-way communication, is going to give the utility company a lot of tools to improve customer service. “When the customer’s power goes out, we rely on the customer to tell us right now,” shared Slater. “Now the reader will send a signal saying ‘my power is out.’”

Last summer, SMECO installed smart meters in Chesapeake Ranch Estates. The installation was part of its first phase of smart meter deployment in Southern Maryland. The energy company services 32,221 in Calvert County alone. Their goal is to install 10,000 to 15,000 meters per month, according to Dennison.

SMECO installed roughly 5,700 smart meters in Calvert between June and the end of January. Last month, SMECO installed the meters in Huntingtown, Sunderland, Owings and Dunkirk. The next rollout of installations in the county will be this month in areas to include Barstow, Dares Beach, Prince Frederick, St. Leonard and Port Republic.

To help the customers prepare for future installations, SMECO is holding a series of open houses in Southern Maryland to inform customers of the attributes of smart meters. An open house was held Jan. 26 at the Calvert Library Prince Frederick. St. Mary’s County customers will have an opportunity to field smart meter questions at an open house Feb. 9 in the company’s Leornardtown office, while Charles County customers can go to SMECO’s Hughesville office Feb. 24. Both open houses are set for 4–7 p.m.

SMECO is not the only game in town. In 2010, Baltimore Gas and Electric, which primarily services the Twin Beaches area in Calvert, received permission from the Maryland Public Service Commission to implement the new technology, three years prior to SMECO.

Mulcahy said the company started in the spring of 2012 on its effort to upgrade 1.7 million electric and gas meters in its service area, which includes nine counties in Maryland to include Anne Arundel, Prince George’s and Calvert. BGE has a customer base of roughly 7,800 in Calvert. Mulcahy is uncertain as to how many smart meters were installed in Calvert County, but said implementation is complete.

The road to smart metering has not been easy. There have been numerous pieces of legislation introduced in the Maryland General Assembly between 2009 and 2016 on smart meters. After receiving authorization from PSC to proceed with implementation of the advanced metering infrastructure, the Maryland utility companies have received pushback from those who question the safety of the devices that emit radio-frequency waves.

Exposure to wireless radiation from smart meters has been associated with nausea, headaches, stress, dizziness and sleeplessness, to name a few, according to a March 12, 2015, report “Symptoms after Exposure to Smart Meter Radiation,” authored by Ronald M. Powell, Ph.D. The data for Powell’s report was gathered from two surveys of 410 people, adults and children, in 28 states in the U.S., as well as in Victoria, Australia, who were exposed to radiation from smart meters.

Dennison said the PSC in its ruling determined meters are safe and secure. However, Rebecca Hanna-Diener, director of public relations for Maryland Smart Meter Awareness, an anti-smart meter advocacy group, expressed to the Recorder the group’s concerns over the health, safety and privacy implications of having a smart meter.

Hanna said through a public information request, she was able to get well over 1,800 registered smart meter complaints filed with Maryland’s PSC from late 2012 to late 2013. Hanna summarizes the complaints in a document at http://marylandsmartmeterawareness.org/.

There were no problems with the meter until Aug. 30, when a smart meter inspector told her that her meter was not working properly and they would replace it later with another smart meter. In the interim, they employed a technique called “jumping the box,” which allowed her home to continue to get electricity from a main line. Walton said it wasn’t until Oct. 3 when BGE installed a new meter. In the time between, BGE was estimating the family of four’s energy usage, which, according to Walton, was significantly higher than their usage with their first smart meter.

Then, she said, on Dec. 16 the new meter suddenly looked like a brake light. “It was glowing. You could feel the heat at a distance of 5 inches away,” explained Walton. She said she immediately called BGE and the fire department, which told her to evacuate her home and ordered BGE to cut power to the house, as it was declared unsafe.

Walton said the source of the problem was high voltage from a live wire. It was later revealed the second meter was installed improperly. In the months to follow, Walton reported she would receive two more smart meters and is in the midst of an ongoing dispute with BGE on the elevated bills.

“When a customer believes any damages have occurred as a result of our action or inaction, we require them to submit a claim form and we will investigate,” explained Mulcahy, adding that due to BGE’s privacy policy, he could not discuss Walton’s situation.

In light of the health, safety and billing and privacy concerns related to data collection, in 2012 the Public Service Commission allowed customers to defer or opt out of the installation of smart meters. However, opting out comes with costs.

Dennison said the PSC has recognized there is a cost associated with utility providers maintaining two infrastructures and the utilities have the right and a business need to recoup costs. For SMECO customers, there is an initial fee of $75 and a monthly fee of $17 to opt out of smart meter installation.

“We have installed nearly 21,000 smart meters. So far 165 customer-members have opted out,” said Dennison of its Southern Maryland implementation, adding that number includes those who wanted to opt out but have not been charged the opt-out fees because SMECO has not installed the meters in their area.