Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. began installing new smart meters earlier this month that measure energy use in hundreds of Bowie homes.
Had one of the new meters been tuned in to the Bowie City Council meeting on Sept. 18 the dial most likely would have gone into the red as council members seemed to either demand a halt to the initiative or for it to be abandoned all together. Concerns ranged from radiation exposure to lack of information about the program.
The smart meters can communicate wirelessly with BGE’s systems, enabling the utility to read customers’ meters as opposed to older analog systems that require a worker to go out and visually check a meter, according to BGE. BGE customers will be able to log into the company’s website and track their energy usage day-by-day, according to BGE. Most of Bowie’s roughly 22,800 homes will receive the smart meters over the next four months.
Residents, including Bowie Mayor G. Frederick Robinson, said that meters were installed at their homes without any notification from the company or explanation of what they do compared to the old analog meters.
Despite writing to opt out of the smart reader installation due to concerns that the device’s wireless technology might have a negative impact on the health of her dog and cats due to radiation, Patty Melvin said she came to her home on the 8000 block of Chestnut Avenue on Sept. 19 to find one installed on her property, she said.
“I'm very disappointed it was done,” she said.
BGE representatives said they would look into why meters were installed without notice.
Bowie will be the first area outside Anne Arundel County to feature the new meters, said Rhea Lewis Marshall, a BGE spokeswoman. Upgrading BGE’s entire electrical system in Maryland to the smart readers should take until 2014 and cost about $492 million, she said.
Council members and residents also questioned whether the devices’ wireless communication could cause health risks.
“I need to see some data, the data points, to know there is not any deleterious effects on people's health,” said Councilman Isaac Trouth (Dist. 4).
The health experts and studies that BGE consulted have not found any evidence of dangers from the meters, which only transmit for brief spurts throughout the day and total up to about two minutes a day, Lewis Marshall said.
Lingering questions over the meters safety which a mixture of some studies and anecdotal accounts have called into question caused multiple city leaders to call for BGE to take more time to talk about the issue with residents before rolling more of them out in the city.
“I don't think it’s at all unreasonable for us to say, given the extent of these questions that you consider halting,” Robinson said.
BGE would be willing to continue working with the council, Lewis Marshall said.
Due to council concerns about the project and a desire for more information, representatives from BGE are tentatively scheduled to address the council at its Oct. 1 meeting, said city spokeswoman Una Cooper. That public meeting will be followed by an open house at the Bowie City Hall on Oct. 4 where BGE representatives will present more information on the devices to the public and take questions, said Rachael Lighty, a BGE spokeswoman.