Regulators weigh opt out fees for smart meters - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Regulators weigh opt out fees for smart meters

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Pepco and other Maryland utilities want customers to pay hundreds of dollars more if they opt out of new smart electricity meters.

In a FOX 5 investigation, we first told you about health and privacy concerns because the meters transmit information wirelessly. On Tuesday, state regulators heard from Pepco, BGE and SMECO about what customers should pay to opt out.

The utilities stand by the safety of the new smart meters and presented proposals to charge customers hefty fees to opt out.

"That assumes that all of those costs will be borne by the customers that opted out. In other jurisdictions, they've decided that not all of those costs would be borne by opt out customers," said Chris Burton, BGE Vice President of Smart Grid and Technology.

Right now, saying no to smart meters does not cost a thing. But if the utilities have their way, it could get expensive.

In proposals presented to the PSC, Pepco and BGE's plans called for prices of up to about $70 a month and an upfront fee of $240. The price for SMECO was lower. The upfront price was as much as $105 and up to $65 for monthly fees.

"We don't think there's any sufficient reliable evidence in the record to support any sort of opt out fee at all," said Jonathan Libber with Maryland Smart Meter Awareness.

A smart meter emits minute amounts radiation as it sends and receives information from your electricity meter. Because it is sent wirelessly, the utility saves money by eliminating the need for meter readers. For those who opt out the utilities claim, it will cost more to operate a separate system.

So far, about 20,000 BGE customers have deferred the installation of smart meters and more than 2,000 Pepco customers. SMECO is just beginning its rollout.

One commissioner questioned the high price and accused Pepco of not being considerate of the poor and elderly.

"You're saying you're not a good corporate citizen?" said Commissioner Harold Williams.

FOX 5 tried to get answers but Pepco wasn't talking.

"We're not really going to be able to speak about the particulars," said spokesperson Marcus Beal.

While a Pepco executive testified and the utility's proposed rates were submitted in a public report, Beal still refused to give specifics.

"The answer is still the same," he said. "We're not going to be able to comment."

Pepco's fee would even charge those who opt out to install a smart meter after they move. The pricing is based on estimates -- basically a best guess. That concerns Maryland's People's Counsel.

"These are all estimates and certainly there would need to be some reconciliation to the costs," explained Paula Carmody.

Opting out is an option, but at how high a price? The commission is weighing the options, but has not set a deadline for its decision.

BGE wants to begin charging opt out customers in March 2014. Several states have similar programs with prices as low as $10 a month or in some cases -- free. Legislation in Maryland that would allow a free opt out failed the past two years.

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