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Are Maryland Utilities Allowed to Replace Our Analog Meters with Non-Smart Digital Meters?

The above question has been coming up with increasing frequency over the last several months.  The Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) provided for a permanent opt out for any residential or small commercial customer not wishing to have a smart meter in its Order Number 86200 dated February 26, 2014.  This opt out was limited to customers of BGE, Delmarva Power & Light, Pepco and SMECO.  The order sets up two distinct groups of opt out customers.  The first group is addressed in Section of 1 of the PSC’s Order:

(1) that the Utilities shall offer their residential and small commercial customers the option of retaining their legacy meters;

What is not clear is who exactly is in this first group?  It appears to include those customers who opted out under the authority of the PSC’s Interim Opt Out Order of May 2012.  But does it also include any of those customers who had not yet opted out?  Those customers seemed to have their situations addressed in Section 13 of the order:

(13) that all other customers with already-installed smart meters or those currently scheduled for deployment prior to July 1, 2014 who did not take action under our Interim Opt-Out Order may notify their utility if they wish to opt out and retain their legacy meter, subject to the fees established herein;

The distinction between these groups may be very significant as footnote 119 to Section 1 explains that the utilities have the right to replace those legacy meters with a non-smart digital meter.  It states:

As noted, the Utilities may install an ERT/AMR meter in lieu of a smart meter. The customer will not incur any charge in addition to the-opt out costs we have approved herein.

The reason for this is that the legacy meters will eventually wear out, and the utilities no longer stock replacement analog meters and parts.  These are not items you can buy off the shelf as each utility’s meters tend to be tailored to that particular utility’s needs.  But no similar footnote appears to Section 13 explaining that the utilities still have the right to replace those legacy meters with non-smart digital meters.  This implies that while the utilities have the right to replace the legacy meters of those customers covered by Section 1 of the Order, those customers in this second group have the right to keep their legacy meters forever.  Looking at the PSC’s reasoning expressed in Order 86200, it is more likely that the PSC meant that any of these four utilities has the right to replace a legacy meter with a non-digital smart meter regardless of how the customer opted out.  It is hard to believe that the PSC would set up two groups of opt out customers with different rights.  But it still is an open question for any customer that is willing to litigate his or her rights.  Should you decide to challenge your utility on this issue, it would be a good idea to contact MSMA’s legal counsel, Jonathan Libber, at: (410) 358-4616 or jlibberconsulting@gmail.com

If your utility notifies you that it plans to replace your legacy meter with a digital meter, there are few things to keep in mind even if you do not directly challenge its right to do so.  First, there needs to be a good reason why your meter needs to be replaced.  If they tell you it is not working properly, you should demand that the utility’s employees show you proof that there is a problem.  If they tell you that the customer would not understand it, tell them you are giving it to an expert electrician.  If there is nothing wrong with the meter, then you should challenge them on that basis.  Second, if you do allow them to replace the meter, then make sure it is really a non-smart digital meter as some of the repair crews might try to sneak in a smart meter on an unsuspecting customer.  The telltale sign that you have a smart meter is if there is something that looks like a silver skull in the lower right quadrant of a smart meter’s face.  (The utility’s version of the ‘Jolly Rodger’)  If you have any questions, take a digital photo of the meter and e-mail it Jonathan Libber for evaluation.

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