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November 2015 Update

As you probably have already heard, BGE’s opt-out fee was lowered from $11 monthly to $5.50 due to the unexpectedly high opt-out rate in BGE’s service area (about 4%).

A key operating principle in setting opt-out fees is that the larger the opt-out rate, the lower the fee since there are more people to share the costs.  Somewhat surprisingly, the PSC does feel obliged to adjust opt-out fees according to the opt-out rate.  This is what just happened with BGE.

Although this is an encouraging development, it’s just a momentary respite in the long journey that lies ahead as Maryland utilities, one by one go before the PSC seeking significant rate increases to pay for the wireless smart meter program.   Each utility must prove energy and cost savings before they can charge ratepayers for the new system — the logic being, “We can now charge you for saving you money.”

BGE is First
BGE is the first Maryland utility to seek recovery of costs for their wireless smart meter program.  The day after BGE’s opt-out fee adjustment hearing, the utility announced it was seeking a rate hike to the tune of $15.20 monthly — $7.56 for electricity and $7.64 for gas, to recover the costs of their wireless smart meter program.  The temporary relief BGE’s customers get by the lowered opt-out fee pales next to the looming rate hike.  How things unfold with BGE will set a precedent for the other utilities.

Call to Action
We need to get the word out that BGE’s opt-out fees have been reduced and “‘tis the season to opt out.”  With the opt-out fee in the BGE territory a bit more affordable, we have a small window of time to ramp up the opt-out rate even further. This is a propitious time to launch an aggressive outreach campaign and to rally public outrage about having to pay twice — once for the wireless smart meter program and then again if we don’t want a wireless smart meter compromising our health, safety and privacy.

If feasible, we would ask MSMA members to conside

  • Sending letters to the Maryland Public Service Commission, which makes all decisions on rate increases and opt-out fees
  • Writing letters to your local media
  • Speaking about this at condo or community meetings
  • Forwarding this email to your contacts, and asking your contacts to do so as well

The message, for all of these venues, is twofold:

  1. The BGE opt-out fee has been lowered so take advantage now – the principle being, the higher the opt-out rate, the lower the fees.  (This applies to all utilities)
  2. BGE has requested a $15 rate hike for all customers to pay for wireless smart meters, and all Maryland utilities will be following suit.  This needs to be fought by an informed and very vocal public if there is to be any hope of stopping this or at least, lessening it to some degree.

What about the Other Maryland Utilities?
Currently, the other utilities have a significantly lower opt-out rate than that of BGE.  One of the reasons is that there were thousands of BGE customers with indoor meters, which the utility could not access as the homeowners were “non-responsive.”  The PSC ruled that after 15 attempts to gain access, the homeowner could be placed by default into the opt-out category.  This accounted for about half of BGE’s opt-out customers.

A second reason for the larger than expected BGE opt-out rate might be that BGE’s opt-out fee was initially set lower than that of the other utilities whose fees were $17 for DelMarva, SMECO and ChopTank, and $14 for PEPCO.

But there was also more public outreach/outrage in the BGE service area when the wireless smart meters were first being installed. Hopefully, between the current flurry of activity in the BGE area, and a somewhat more aggressive outreach program in other service areas, the opt-out rate for all utilities can be increased, and the fee lowered accordingly.

Unraveling Industry Spin
Each utility will soon come before the PSC to justify the huge expenditure for wireless smart meters aka Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI).  Utilities will attempt to show that wireless smart meters are both energy and cost saving.  But following are a few factors that undermine utility assumptions and that might just be “overlooked” in a rate case.

  1. Meters are considered a capital investment.  Wireless smart meters have to be replaced every 5-7 years.  Ratepayers must cover both the cost of these new meters and the 10-13% Rate of Return (ROR) on capital investments to which the utilities are legally entitled.  This will not be just a one-time occurrence but will have to be shouldered by ratepayers every 5-7 years indefinitely.  http://smartgridawareness.org/2015/10/29/smart-meters-have-life-of-5-to-7-years/
  2. Huge, ongoing expenses will be needed to prevent cyber attack and hacking both of which are highly probable due to thousands of new portals of entry now available thanks to wireless smart meters.  Will funds be set aside for potential devastating losses from what most experts consider inevitable cyber attacks on the grid, or will customers have to bear these costs?
  3. The cost of disposing of the still functional analog meters, which have a lifespan of 30-40 years.
  4. The lost depreciation value from discarding the still useful analog meters.
  5.  The cost to the utilities of public “education” in trying to convince an increasingly unwilling public to accept these wireless meters.
  6.  The cost of meter readers, which are needed for the all too common occurrence of dysfunctional wireless smart meters.
  7. The cost of having to dispatch technicians when a wireless smart meter is generating inexplicably high bills.  Sometimes the cause is found, but often the customer ends up paying the double or triple bill as utilities have yet to figure out the cause for these high bills.  And if utilities cared enough to get to the root of this problem, the research needed would cost them yet more.
  8. The cost of lawsuits or insurance claims the utilities may face from privacy invasions, fires, health effects, and hacking, all enabled by wireless smart meters.

And will the following other uncomfortable truths be brought up in a rate case or conveniently omitted?

  1. The fact that nearly all the problems caused by wireless smart meters could be resolved by using wired meters, and so there is no need to compromise everyone’s health, safety and privacy with wireless radiating devices…except that a wireless system is cheaper.
  2.  And as for the rebate program – You can save a pittance, but your monthly bill will far exceed any savings once the rate hikes are approved.  Moreover, the “savings” are hardly a customer appreciation freebie – you’ll need to suffer, sweat n’save to earn this tiny rebate.  And as mentioned above, such rebate programs do not require a wireless smart meter.
  3.  A wireless smart meter is not needed for providing personal usage data to the customer as an energy monitor can accomplish this for a one-time cost of $40.  And whereas a wireless smart meter provides stale data (24 to 48 hours old), an energy monitor provides real time data but without the ill effects caused by a wireless device.
  4. Wireless smart meters are not needed to integrate local renewable energy into the grid.  In “Getting Smarter about the Smart Grid,” grid expert, Dr. Timothy Schoechle, explains how wireless smart meters are an outdated technology being used to prop up the antiquated, centralized utility business model (think 10-13% ROR on capital investments).  And by so doing, wireless smart meters actually work against a decentralized energy future based on local rooftop solar.  www.gettingsmarteraboutthesmartgrid.org.

Unfortunately, the utilities will probably just continue with their rhetoric about wireless smart meters providing “saved truck rolls,” “pings for outage detection,” and “remote turn-on/shut-off of service”— all of which provide zero benefit to customers and which, could be done without the use of wireless meters.

Finally, we offer the following documents that we hope will assist you in crafting letters or other outreach materials.  We would be glad to assist you in any of these efforts.  Feel free to contact us at info@marylandsmartmeterawareness.org.

  1. Ron Powell’s Comments submitted to the Maryland Public Service Commission regarding the interim opt-out fee adjustment.  http://www.psc.state.md.us/search-results/?keyword=9208+comments+Ronald+Powell+&x.x=3&x.y=18&search=all (click on “In Response to PSC 87184”)
  1. A highly recommended website for coverage of all things pertaining to the many and varied problems with wireless smart meters.  The 200 some articles on this website are very well documented and offer many supporting links. http://smartgridawareness.org
  1. Ronald Powell from Montgomery County here in Maryland has generated a series of papers primarily dealing with the bio effects of the radiation emitted from wireless smart meters.  Ron’s papers have been a great help in bringing awareness to the ever-growing exposure to wireless radiation we are all living with.  Ron’s writing is clear and his scholarship impeccable. These papers can now be accessed at the following link.    http://www.scribd.com/doc/291507610/Documents-on-Wireless-Technology-and-Health-by-Ronald-M-Powell-Ph-D
  1. Press release by Timothy Schoechle about smart meters not being necessary for ushering in a new decentralized renewable energy future. http://gettingsmarteraboutthesmartgrid.org/press_release.html
  1. MSMA’s Comments submitted to the Maryland Public Service Commission regarding the interim opt-out fee adjustment.   (This link includes all the filings pertaining to case number 9208, BGE’s Smart Meter Initiative.)
    http://webapp.psc.state.md.us/Intranet/Casenum/CaseAction_new.cfm?CaseNumber=9208

    Scroll down to #293 for MSMA’s most recent submission on the opt-out fees.

  2. All filings pertaining to PEPCO’s Smart Meter Initiative.
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