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May 18, 2011 | last updated December 1, 2011 1:18 pm

CMP ordered to offer smart meter opt-out

Central Maine Power Co. must allow customers to opt out of its controversial smart meter program, the Maine Public Utilities Commission ruled yesterday.

Regulators said "offering a smart meter opt-out option is reasonable and in the public interest," according to a press release from the PUC. Customers who do not want a smart meter installed at their residence will have two opt-out options: using a smart meter with its wireless transmitter turned off or keeping their analog meter. However, customers must pay fees in order to opt out. The first option requires an initial fee of $20 and a monthly charge of $10.50, while the second carries a $40 initial fee and a $12 monthly charge. Low-income customers eligible for fuel assistance will pay half those fees. Customers can also request a smart meter be moved to another location or have their old meter reinstalled. The opt-out offerings are identical to the options proposed by the PUC staff last month.

The PUC also said more attention should be paid to the smart meters' benefits and how to get the public "actively engaged in monitoring their usage and the real-time price of electricity." CMP and other smart meter proponents say the wireless devices will save both consumers and the company money, but opponents say they pose health and safety risks, a topic the PUC previously said it will not investigate. Approximately 7,000 customers have already refused the smart meters.

The PUC in February approved CMP's $190 million smart meter project, half of which is paid for through a U.S. Department of Energy grant. The company has already started replacing meters for more than 600,000 customers, estimated to save consumers $25 million over 20 years. CMP spokesman John Carroll told the Maine Public Broadcasting Network that the company plans to contact its customers in the coming weeks to see if they wish to opt out.

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