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City, AARP to host Smart Meter forum

(March 7, 2014) The Town of Ocean City, along with the local Chapter 1917 of the American Association of Retired Persons, will be sponsoring a town hall-style meeting Wednesday, March 12, to address issues relating to the installation of so-called “smart meters” in the resort area.

Incidentally, the Maryland Public Service Commission announced last week that it had approved a permanent opt-out of the smart meter upgrade – but also authorized utility companies to levy an additional fee for those who decline to switch.

Delmarva Power and Light could charge area customers an up-front $75 fee, and $17 per month after that, to opt-out of smart meter installation.

The March 12 meeting will begin at 11 a.m. at the Ocean City Senior Center, located on 41st Street next to the convention center.

Speaking at the event will be Jim Smith, DP&L’s Public Affairs Manager, as well as Jonathan Libber, President of Maryland Smart Meter Awareness.

Both Smith and Libber will give presentations of roughly 20 minutes each, followed by audience questions via microphone or submitted on question cards to be provided. Chapter 1917 President Chris Norris will moderate.

“We didn’t want it to be a debate, more of a town hall meeting where people can have their questions answered and concerns addressed,” Norris said.

Smart meter implementation has become topic of contention nation-wide over the past few years. Many utility companies, including Delmarva Power, have begun replacing analog meters with digital, wirelessly-linked smart meters. These will eliminate the need for meter reading personnel, as well as allow both the utility and the customer to monitor usage via a real-time program, presumably online.

Power companies will also be able to re-route power flow during times of peak usage – although Delmarva Power has stressed that this will not make a discernible difference to customers, but will make the grid far more efficient and lower customers’ bills.

However, concerns have arisen regarding how accessible customer’s personal data will be via the meters – and the possibility of hacking or some other kind of electronic breach.

Further, Libber’s group and others have expressed concern that the meters give off a certain amount of electromagnetic radiation, not unlike cell phones and power stations, but to an extent that further inquiry into public health effects should be done.

In 2012, the PSC – which regulates all utilities in Maryland – mandated that customers be allowed to defer implementation of the meters while the technology was under review.

Amidst continuing controversy, the PSC announced last week that it would allow permanent opt-outs. But the state’s utility companies also requested the right to levy a fee for those properties that would be less efficient, as well as incurring additional personnel costs, as a result of keeping analog meters.

An up-front charge as well as a monthly fee was approved for all four of the state’s major energy providers.

Locally, a number of complaints – including from city council members – have been fielded in regards to the meters. City leaders have alleged that DP&L’s contractors have not given proper notice to residents before changing their meters, and have cited unclear charges appearing on electricity bills since installation.

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