January 5, 2011 - Maine PUC opens smart meter investigation

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Smart grid infrastructure has the potential to not only reduce the cost of electricity to consumers, but also to enable society to use energy more wisely.  Smart meter installation programs have been approved by FERC, and are moving forward in a number of utilities' service territories.  In Maine, Central Maine Power's $192 million Automated Metering Infrastructure (AMI) program was originally approved by the Maine Public Utilities Commission in February 2010 (Docket Number 2007-215).  The PUC approved the AMI program based on its benefits, including improving customer service, enhancing storm restoration efforts, and reducing both ratepayer and utility costs.  CMP secured a federal Department of Energy (DOE) grant to fund about half the cost of the AMI program.  Smart meters are now being installed in homes and businesses in CMP's territory, with over 50,000 already deployed in the field out of about 620,000 total meters to be installed.

Yet when it comes to the details of the rollout, concerns have been raised including the alleged lack of an opt-out for ratepayers who do not wish to be metered through smart meters.  Two separate ten-person complaints were filed to the PUC requesting an investigation of the AMI program (Docket Numbers 2010-345, and 2010-389).  This week, the Maine PUC voted unanimously to open an investigation of the issues raised, including both whether there truly is no opt-out, as well as whether such a lack of an opt-out would be “unreasonable, insufficient or unjustly discriminatory”.  The investigation may also include an evaluation of the availability and technical feasibility of alternative metering technologies that don't rely on wireless communications, as well as the cost implications of any such alternatives.

The formal order opening investigation should be issued shortly, with opportunities for public comment and participation.  Will the PUC find that the smart metering program is being implemented properly?  If smart metering brings public benefits to ratepayers, what should utilities do to educate the public about these benefits?

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