2011-12-07 / Front Page

Bath eyes extending new meter delay rule

BY BETH BROGAN Times Record Staff

BATH

Bath city councilors this evening will consider whether to allow a six-month moratorium on “ Smart Meter” installation in Bath to lapse — or to extend it for an additional period.

Central Maine Power plans to complete installation of the wireless meters statewide by early March, and as of Saturday, had installed nearly 485,000 of its goal of 625,000 Smart Meters by early March, including nearly all the meters in Brunswick and Topsham, CMP spokesman John Carroll said Monday.

Should Bath councilors vote tonight to extend the moratorium — still the only such municipal Smart Meter installation delay in Maine — beyond that spring time frame, “ We will certainly need to find a way to get those meters installed,” Carroll said.

Opponents of the wireless meters — among them, dozens of parties to complaints filed with the Maine Public Utilities Commission — allege that the meters interfere with wireless Internet and medical devices, and that the radio signals can cause health problems.

But CMP officials and their supporters assert that the meters are efficient and accurate, and no more dangerous than many other day-to-day items not similarly limited in Bath, such as baby monitors.

On June 2, the Bath City Council voted 5-3 to enact a 180-day moratorium on installation of Smart Meters in the city, blocking CMP from installing the meters without advance permission from individual homeowners.

Ward 6 Councilor David Sinclair, who proposed the moratorium, said at the time that the ordinance would allow time for all potential appeals of the PUC rulings to be exhausted and would allow the council to review any outreach material about the meters CMP might distribute to residents to inform them of their options regarding the devices.

Nearly two dozen official complaints about Smart Meters have been filed with the PUC. The commission has also received “a large number” of letters from CMP customers expressing serious concerns about the devices, including “potential health and safety impacts, privacy and security risks, and possible interference with wireless devices,” PUC Administrative Director Karen Geraghty wrote in a June 22 order.

In 2010, the Maine Center for Disease Control concluded that health studies and assessments by government, private and academic organizations “do not indicate any consistent or convincing evidence to support a concern for health effects related to the use of ” radio frequency such as that used by smart meters, according to PUC documents.

A 19-person complaint that raised concerns about the safety, privacy and other issues related to the Smart Meter program was dismissed by the PUC, but in November, Bowdoinham resident Ed Friedman filed an appeal of that decision with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Sinclair said the case “will test whether deployment as it is currently ongoing will be allowed to continue on its present course.”

Also in November, Maine Public Advocate Richard Davies wrote that more than 200 customers had called CMP about problems with appliances and devices including phones, Internet routers and WiFi, personal computers, TVs and fire alarms. Davies wrote that while most issues are resolved through simple fixes, his “agency is troubled by the possibility that people may be spending their time and money fixing a problem that may be caused by CMP’s meters, and that can and should be fixed by CMP.”

Sinclair said Monday that unless “real evidence” is presented this evening, he will support extending the moratorium.

“ Nothing that originally motivated me (to support a moratorium) — the state of certainty regarding the technology, the situation regarding several of my constituents with regard to health concerns, privacy concerns and their ability to make decisions over their own homes — none of that has changed over the last six months,” he said.

Carroll said CMP officials thought the purpose of the moratorium was to allow Bath officials time to seek answers from the PUC about Smart Meters.

“ My understanding was that Bath wanted the PUC proceeding to play itself out,” he said. “We set the installations (in Bath) aside in hopes members of the council who had those questions and concerns could get them answered. But has anyone from the town ever brought those questions to the commission? That’s the troubling part for us. ... If they still believe the commission hasn’t done its job, I don’t know why they wouldn’t have taken their case to the commission instead of letting it languish, and putting us and our customers in an awkward position.”

Bath City Manager Bill Giroux said Monday that neither he nor any Bath city councilors have contacted the PUC with any questions.

Sinclair said he also worries about reports from the town of Wilton “ that CMP accelerated their rate of deployment to the point that the entire town was deployed (with Smart Meters) before the council could take it up,” he said. “If that’s an accurate report, it strikes me as dishonest. ... they certainly seem willing to step up their deployment wherever it seems a municipality might be willing to slow down their deployment.”

Carroll said Monday that during three meetings with the Wilton board, he described the timing of the installations, and “they never asked that we not install the meters.”

He said “ a few thousand meters” — the number CMP crews typically install in a day — were ultimately installed over weeks in Wilton.

But he acknowledged that CMP did not slow the process in that town, noting, “ We weren’t anxious to have another town acting on another moratorium ... we did not stop.”

In June, Bath City Solicitor Roger Therriault told councilors that any ordinance would not likely be defensible in court, because installation of the meters and their use of radio signals to transmit information are not regulated locally, but rather by state and federal authorities, respectively.

Carroll said Monday that CMP has not taken legal action to date “because there was time and they seemed interested in getting some information. We don’t know what they’re interested in ... what the purpose of continuing it is unless they’re going to make a commitment to getting (answers) ... Yes, a legal challenge is an option.”

Other City Council business

BATH — Also agenda for this evening’s Bath City meeting — scheduled, according to city charter, to begin at 7:30 p.m. — councilors will swear in re-elected Councilors David Sinclair and At-large Councilor Andy Winglass, as well as newly-elected Ward 1 Councilor Meadow Merrill and elect council leadership.

Among other items on the agenda, the council is scheduled to:

— Hold a public hearing and consider authorizing an ordinance amendment to allow contract rezoning in the Plant Home Zone.

— Hold a public hearing and consider approving second passage of a bond ordinance of up to $450,000 to fund demolition of the old YMCA building.

— Hold a public hearing and consider approving second passage of a bond ordinance of up to $308,000 to fund renovations to the Armory building.

— Consider authorizing the use of the Armory building by the Department of Parks and Recreation for the purpose of housing the Skatepark and Youth Meetinghouse and any other community-related purposes.

— Consider approving first passage of a proposed fireworks ordinance.

The council will meet at 7:30 p.m. at Bath City Hall.

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