Maryland’s Public Service Commission is looking into complaints that Pepco did not notify some customers, as required, before installing smart meters at their homes.
The digital meters, which transmit usage and other data through radio waves, have been controversial because of concerns over low-level radiation they emit, data security and privacy, and reports that some meter models have overheated and caused fires in some cases.
As part of the PSC order regulating smart-meter installation, Pepco was required to notify customers, by letter, before the meters were installed.
It is not clear how many customers have been affected by what Pepco describes as a glitch in the process that the utility set up and used for the letters, which were sent through a contract mailing house, and the installation, which was handled by a contractor.
PSC spokeswoman Regina Davis said the agency’s staff has reviewed 217 complaints related to smart meters. Two of those came in January from customers who said they had not received notice before the meters were installed.
Under a continuing PSC order, electricity customers have the option of notifying the utility if they do not want the radiowave-based meters, but the commission is considering whether customers can keep their analog meters permanently or will have to get a smart meter that can transmit data without using radio waves.
As part of the PSC’s ongoing investigation, commission staff will check complaints to ensure that customers who opted out but already had smart meters installed can get them replaced with analog meters.
The Gazette recognized the glitch when a reporter intercepted a meter installer at her home during the first week of January, but did not recall receiving a notice in the mail.
The reporter called Pepco as to whether the utility knew of a problem, and a spokesman said officials were looking into it.
Almost three weeks after the smart meter was installed on the exterior of the house, a letter, dated Jan. 15, arrived at the reporter’s residence announcing that a smart meter would be installed in the “next several weeks.”
The reporter found several other customers who said they had not received letters before Pepco sent an installer to switch them to a smart meter.
“That’s not the way the process was supposed to work,” said Pepco spokesman Marcus Beal, who said he helped manage Pepco’s smart-meter project.
Beal said the company has had few complaints about the 800,000 smart meters it has installed.
On Pepco’s website, the utility told customers they would get a notification letter one to four weeks before the meter swap.
Peter Hmel of Gaithersburg said he had not received a letter the first time a meter installer showed up at his house, but said he got a letter just before an installer returned with the equipment needed to put in the new meter.
“In any case, it was not enough notice,” Hmel said.
Stephen Mabon of Gaithersburg said he did not recall receiving a letter and did not know a new meter had been installed outside his home until a reporter called.
In December, Pepco said it would miss its goal of having all smart meters installed by the end of 2012, but expected to have 95 percent placed by the end of January.
The meters have been touted for their ability to notify the utility of outages and for the potential to help customers track and manage their electricity use.