D.C. to investigate smart meters

Max Smith, wtop.com

The D.C. Public Service Commission says it is going to study the health, safety and privacy impacts of electric smart meters.

The commission had turned down a similar request to study the growing use of digital meters earlier this year, but issued an order Friday reversing course at the request of D.C. Councilwoman Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7).

Alexander heads the Council’s Public Services and Consumer Affairs Committee. In her August letter, she and other members of the committee said they had gotten numerous complaints from several Pepco customers concerned about the meters.

The commission will also review whether Pepco should give customers a chance to opt out of the smart meter program. A District law allowing Pepco to install the smart meters did not provide an opt-out clause.

There have been no reports of widespread problems with the meters either locally or nationally. But opponents of the meters question whether the wireless signals sent from the meters to the utility companies increase the risk of cancer. They also worry that the units could spark fires.

Opponents also cite privacy concerns because details of each customer’s power usage are electronically sent back to the utilities.

Power companies point to benefits like automatically-reported outages and a smarter power grid that can help manage energy demand. Pepco also says the detailed information the meters provide may help customers cut down on electricity use.

Maryland is looking into questions about smart meter safety too. The Maryland Public Service Commission held a hearing last month with the state’s utility companies to determine what type of meters the companies are installing in their service areas and whether they know of any reports of fires associated with the new devices.

The Maryland PSC is reviewing the meters because of media reports of fires related to the smart meters installed by a power company in Pennsylvania. The provider suspended installation of its smart meters.

A few states, including California, Vermont, Maine and Nevada, allow customers to opt out of smart meters.

Smart meters replace the spinning, analog meters that measure the amount of electricity a home or business uses each month. Power companies must send meter readers to check the analog devices regularly, but the new meters send power usage information to the utilities directly.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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