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Residents who say “no” to a new smart electric meter could end up paying for it in Maryland.

Pepco is one of four electric utilities in the state that could get permission from Maryland’s Public Service Commission to charge those who don’t accept a new smart meter. The charges are also being considered for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., Delmarva Power and Light Co. and Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative Inc.

In January, the PSC began considering how to provide electric customers a way to opt out of receiving a new smart meter, also known as advanced metering. It asked utilities to provide estimated costs for allowing customers to keep their old meters as well as how much they would need to recover from customers who don’t take a smart meter.

On Sept. 10, PSC staff recommended the commission allow utilities to charge customers who keep their existing meters about $75 upfront as well as a monthly fee. They are also recommending the companies make sure actual costs match actual revenue, at least once.

For Pepco customers, that monthly fee would tack $44.91 more onto their bill, more than 18 times the $2.41 the utility’s latest rate increase tacked onto the average customer’s bill. Pepco proposed an upfront fee of $100 to keep an existing meter with a monthly fee of $58.

Maryland’s Office of People’s Counsel supports charging customers who choose to keep their meter.

“... [C]ustomers who opt out should bear responsibility for the costs,” People’s Counsel Paula M. Carmody said in an emailed statement. “That way, those who take the smart meter don’t have to pay extra because others decide not to. This is what we recommended, and it’s what Staff is supporting.”

But Harford County Del. Glen Glass thinks no one should have to pay to keep their current meter.

Glass (R-Dist. 34A) of Aberdeen is behind a bill that would allow customers to opt out free of charge.

Glass proposed a bill in the 2012 session to allow customers to say no and not pay, but it died in committee. He proposed it again in 2013 and gained 19 co-sponsors, he said. Not killed outright by the chamber, the bill was sent to “summer study,” which is a way of discussing it after the session ends. While he considers that a win, Glass plans to introduce the legislation again in 2014.

“In a perfect world, I would like a moratorium on all smart meters in the state of Maryland,” he said.

Glass said smart meters in other states have caused problems for customers, including causing fires.

Pepco said in an email statement that smart meters allow for virtually no manual meter reading. Because customers who opt not to have smart meters will still require manual reads, the increased cost of manual meter reading should not be paid for by the vast majority of customers who have embraced this technology. Pepco spokesman Marcus Beal provided the statement.

“That is a big fat lie,” Glass said of the manual readings. “You can read your own meter and send numbers back into the utility companies. We used to do that in the past.”

Pepco said the number of customers who chose to opt out of a smart meter is low, about .004 percent. Pepco serves about 536,000 customers in Maryland.

“With an opt out percentage of .004, well below half of one percent, wireless technology, similar in nature to and well below the emissions of cell phones and even baby monitors, is viewed as safe by our customers and is in line with the commissions’ order stating, ‘we have not found convincing evidence that smart meters pose any health risk to the public at large,’” according to Pepco’s statement.



kalexander@gazette.net