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Smart meters were a hot topic in the Maine State Legislature last week, where stakeholders on both sides of a divisive issue - whether or not Central Maine Power (CMP) should be charging customers to opt out of the utility's advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) program - spent hours making their cases.

Last month, State Rep. Roberta Beavers introduced a bill, L.D.826, that seeks to prohibit utilities from charging any fee or higher rates if a customer declines to have a smart meter installed or requests that one be removed.

For customers that opt out - and there have already been more than 8,000 in the state - CMP currently charges a $40 one-time fee and adds a $12 service charge to monthly bills. These charges have been approved by the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

A wide cross-section of individuals provided testimony last week, with representatives from CMP, Bangor Hydro, the Maine PUC and other organizations sharing time with citizens from all over the state. Opponents contend that smart meters are inaccurate, introduce privacy issues or emit harmful RF waves. The utility says AMI is beneficial to both customers and the company, and opt-outs hurt the whole program - which justifies the charges.

"Opt-out customers reduce the effectiveness and efficiency of the system and increase the cost of the system," CMP's David Allen said during his testimony.

And in the nation's capital, the Office of the People's Counsel for the District of Columbia (OPC), the independent governmental agency that advocates for utility consumers in the district, has petitioned the D.C. Public Service Commission (PSC) to order that Pepco stop smart meter swap-outs for customers who do not wish to have an advanced meter installed on their properties.

Last September, the PSC ordered that a smart meter opt-out provision be examined. However, the OPC says complaints are still coming.

"While a consultant has been hired to conduct a study, no procedural schedule has been issued, and it may be some time before the commission has the data it needs to develop a decision," says Sandra Mattavous-Frye, People's Counsel.

"In light of the challenges we have faced in the District, this action would be in the public interest and would be responsive to many of the consumers who remain concerned about the safety, accuracy and security of the new meters," she adds. "This action would not preclude Pepco from installing a smart meter at some later point, subject to the requirements of the PSC decision in this case."

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