Maine Ruling on Opt Out Puts the Focus on Health Issues Again

The policy developments on the AMI Opt Out front continue to heat up, and what is particularly interesting is the sharp contrast among how various state regulatory and legislative bodies are interpreting and / or ruling on the health issue of smart meters. The big event in the last week was the finding by Maine Supreme Court, which ruled that the Maine Public Utilities Commission did not adequately address health concerns about RF emissions before approving the previous smart meter installations of Central Maine Power. The utility has to date installed about 600,000 smart meters in homes and businesses in the state.

We can contrast this ruling in Maine against what happened in California earlier this year. In their approval of Opt Out alternatives for the state’s three IOUs, CPUC regulators intentionally did not correlate the Opt-Out provisions to any health concerns an area pre-empted by federal law under the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Health issues were certainly part of the regulatory debate in California. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine sent a letter to the CPUC opposing the installation of wireless smart meters in homes and schools, stating that chronic exposure to wireless radio frequency radiation is a preventable environmental hazard that is sufficiently well-documented to warrant immediate preventative health action. On the other hand, in 2011 the California Council on Science and Technology released the results of its study on the health impact of RF from smart meters. It concluded that, when properly installed and maintained, wireless smart meters result in less RF exposure than microwaves and far less exposure than cell phones. References to the findings of the Federal Communications Commission have also been cited; according to the FCC, there is no is no conclusive link between cancer and exposure to radio frequencies, regardless of the device emitting the RF.

However, the CPUC ultimately found that the alleged effect of RF emissions on health was not material to determining whether to offer an opt-out option, and allowed customers to opt out of having a wireless smart meter installed in their home for any reason, or for no reason. Now, Maine’s highest court highest court has ordered the state’s PUC to review health and safety concerns related to smart meters, sending a contentious issue back to the regulators.

This dichotomy in the approach that states are taking seems to underscore the need for a federal ruling on this issue, as I discussed in my white paper last month.

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